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Domestic violence advocates raise concerns about recent changes in N.C. gun laws

Kathleen Lockwood, one of the authors of the article “Policy Recommendations to Address the Nexus of Domestic Violence and Gun Violence”, poses for a portrait in front of Durham County Courthouse on Monday, September 11, 2023.

After lawmakers repealed pistol permit requirements last spring, overriding Gov. Roy Cooper's veto, some domestic violence advocates in the state have raised concerns about perpetrators’ access to firearms.

Senate Bill 41 removed the requirement for people purchasing a pistol to obtain a permit from their county's sheriff's office. Those who purchase a pistol through a federally registered firearms dealer still have to undergo a criminal background check through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). 

Eddie Caldwell, the executive vice president and general counsel of the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association, said the law was repealed because it no longer served its intended purpose. 

He said the point of the pistol permit laws was to fill gaps within the NICS and noted that the North Carolina Sheriffs' Association supported the repeal.

Caldwell also said years ago, records regarding mental health and some crimes would not appear in the NICS. He said sheriffs often performed background checks, even if an applicant had a pistol permit. 

"Over time, the two systems have become duplicative of each other," he said. 

Caldwell said improvements to the system — like the uploading of mental health records — take away the usefulness of pistol permits.

“The need for the pistol purchase permit has really been supplanted by the robust improvements in the NICS program,” he said.

Federally licensed firearms dealers are still required to run a background check through the NICS, but private or unlicensed sellers — like those at gun shows — cannot access the system and run background checks. There are 46 gun shows scheduled in North Carolina through the rest of 2023.

Tim Cannady, a senior attorney at Jetton & Meredith, said Domestic Violence Protective Orders, or DVPOs, are not always properly reported to NICS.

He said people with a DVPO taken out against them are prohibited from purchasing or owning firearms, but because of discrepancies between federal and state law, DVPOs do not always appear in the NICS search.

But, Cannady said the past pistol permit laws weren't perfect either, and obtaining a pistol purchase permit through sheriff background checks could take up to 10 months.

“I don’t necessarily know if I 100 percent agree with either system, but I’m not sure there is a perfect answer to this problem,” he said.

Domestic and gun violence

In July, an article authored by Kathleen Lockwood, Cassandra Rowe and Elizabeth Sager titled “Policy Recommendations to Address the Nexus of Domestic Violence and Gun Violence,” appeared in the month's issue of the North Carolina Medical Journal.

The article discusses the increased lethality of domestic violence when a firearm is present and cites a 2020 study that found the presence of a firearm to increase the risk of homicide by 500 percent.

Lockwood, the policy director for the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said she is concerned that firearm laws in the state will continue to loosen.

A study referenced in the article analyzed mass shootings from 2014-2019 and found that in 68 percent of those shootings, the perpetrator had a history of domestic violence or one of the victims was a partner or family member.

The article also said 80 percent of mass shooters were experiencing a noticeable mental health crisis prior to their attack.

Lockwood, Rowe and Sager's article advocates for the implementation of Extreme Risk Protection Orders, or red flag laws, as a way to curtail dangerous peoples’ access to firearms.

ERPOs empower law enforcement or family members to ask the court to remove a person’s firearms if they fear they are a danger to themselves or others. 

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Twenty-one states and Washington, D.C., have implemented ERPO laws. According to Lockwood, Rowe and Sager’s article, states with these laws have 36 percent fewer firearm deaths annually than states without them.

Senate Bill 215 — which is titled Allow ERPOs to Prevent Suicides & Save Lives — was filed in March by N.C. Sens. Julie Mayfield (D-Buncombe), Jay Chaudhuri (D-Wake) and Natasha Marcus (D-Mecklenburg).

There has been no action on the bill since then, which likely means the bill will not be considered during this legislative session, Lockwood said.

Groups like North Carolinians Against Gun Violence and the North Carolina Domestic Violence Commission, have shared their support for ERPO laws. 

The North Carolina Domestic Violence Commission published a resolution supporting ERPOs in February, stating that 78 percent of North Carolina voters also support these laws.

“In the work that we do, we see the connection between domestic violence homicides, gun violence and mass shootings," Rowe, the co-director of survivor well-being for theNorth Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said. "So, it felt like a really important opportunity to speak to that connection."


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