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House speaker kills proposal to address school safety

Tim Moore

N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, speaks with reporters in his office about ongoing negotiations to repeal House Bill 2 on Thursday, March 23, 2017.

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Saturday, July 7, 2018

After the Parkland, Fla., school shooting in February but before this year’s legislative session, N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore said he wanted to address school safety issues but only those measures that could have bipartisan support.

But Moore killed a proposal similar to one included in a Florida measure that 75 percent of Florida’s GOP legislators supported. That bill was signed in March by Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, and similar measures have been supported elsewhere by Republicans.

The North Carolina version could have won bipartisan support and could have made our state safer. That it wasn’t passed — or even debated — in the 2018 legislative session that ended June 29 is squarely Moore’s responsibility and burden.

The measure is a red flag law, also known as gun violence restraining orders, extreme risk protection orders or risk warrants. Rep. Marcia Morey, D-Durham, a former district court judge, introduced a red flag bill in May.

Under her proposal, family members or law enforcement officers who know of someone behaving in a threatening manner with access to a firearm could petition a district court judge for a restraining order. If granted, the judge would order law enforcement to remove any weapons, then schedule a hearing within 10 days to give the person a chance to discuss whether to bar the person from having firearms for a year.

Indiana, with Republicans controlling both chambers, was among the first states to pass a red flag law in 2005. Prior to this year, four other states had passed similar laws.

After the Parkland shooting, lawmakers in at least 25 states proposed red flag bills. Six states, including Florida, have passed a red flag measure this year. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., supports risk warrants, and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who owns an AR-15, has sponsored a federal red flag bill.

David French, writing in the National Review, said conservatives should support red flag laws. They make us all safer, he wrote, while empowering the individual and protecting liberty.

After a mass shooting, Connecticut in 1999 was the first state to pass a red flag law. A research team led by Duke psychiatry professor Jeffrey Swanson found the law also has prevented suicides; the researchers recently estimated that for every 10 to 20 risk warrants issued, one suicide was prevented. Polling shows red flag laws are supported by about two out of three gun owners and three out of four non-gun-owners.

In short, a law providing for risk warrants is the kind of measure that pragmatic, solutions-seeking politicians of both parties ought to support. Instead, Speaker Moore sent a red flag bill — introduced by a Democrat — to committee to die without even a hearing. He did that even as Republicans have said the key to preventing mass gun violence is to focus on the mental health of the shooter.

Especially galling is that while N.C. legislators didn’t debate risk orders, they did find time to debate six constitutional amendments, most of which are far less important.

Is conferring a constitutional right to hunt and fish more important than keeping our children safe in schools? Is lowering the maximum permissible state income tax rate more important than keeping a gun away from an unstable, dangerous person? Is stripping the governor of power more important than taking a constructive, bipartisan step toward preventing a mass shooting in North Carolina?

Only in Tim Moore and Phil Berger’s warped, hyper-partisan, excessively political, power-greedy world of misplaced priorities.

The News & Observer of Raleigh

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