RALEIGH — Two bills, one requiring gun owners to carry insurance and the other allowing firearms classes in high schools, made their way to the North Carolina House this month.
On April 10, a bill was introduced in the House that, among other things, will require owners of firearms to carry at least $100,000 in liability insurance. Called the Gun Safety Act, House Bill 723 stipulates that firearm owners will maintain policies “covering any damages resulting from negligent or willful acts involving the use of the firearm while it is owned by the person.”
Proof of insurance would be required prior to purchase or transfer of any firearm, and anyone owning a gun on December 1, 2017 would be required to obtain insurance by January 15, 2018. The law would not apply to law enforcement officers with firearms.
“Criminals are still going to find a way to get guns,” speculated Johnny Priest, who saw about 1,000 firearms sales last year through his job at Pawn South in Elizabethtown. “All stricter laws will do is send more people to the streets to get guns.”
Priest also foresees the state losing revenue on sales, because North Carolina residents will go out of state to buy firearms in order to bypass the legislation attached to purchases.
At issue for lawmakers is the Second Amendment and whether the bill infringes on the right — specifically of those who can’t afford what amounts to a monthly fee for maintaining a gun — to keep and bear arms.
“That’s a good debate,” said House Representative Verla Insko (D-Orange County), one of the sponsors of the bill. “My father used to say, ‘Your freedom ends where my nose begins,’ and that’s true. Constitutional rights are not unlimited — you cannot use your constitutional rights to infringe on another’s rights.”
Also unclear is how the regulation would be implemented or enforced. Insko said it could be covered under the homeowner’s liability insurance many people already have, but it’s uncertain how that would pertain to weapons carried under a concealed carry permit on a person or in a purse or vehicle. The bill simply states the “Department of Insurance shall adopt rules to implement this section.”
Tabbed as “common sense” gun regulations by the authors of the bill, the proposed changes of H.B 723 are sweeping. The description of the bill begins by saying it’s a “repeal of the Stand Your Ground Law.” Insko clarified the language.
“It doesn’t mean you don’t have the right to defend yourself in your own home,” she explained. “(Under current law), if somebody comes into your house, it’s automatically assumed that you’re innocent because you have imminent fear of death or bodily harm. You don’t have to have reasonable fear at all — you can know it was somebody drunk, or a kid with no gun, or a neighbor that you knew — under the old law, you’d have reason to kill them.”
The Gun Safety Act proposes that occupants using deadly force against an intruder would have to show they “reasonably believe” themselves or their property to be in danger.
In addition to liability insurance and Stand Your Ground changes, the bill, claims to “strengthen the law regarding safe storage of firearms.” It would also limit the size of ammunition magazines; authorize the courts to issue a gun violence restraining order; and require the sheriff’s office, upon denial of a concealed carry permit, to transmit the refusal to a national instant criminal background check system.
“I think lawmakers forget that the purpose of gun safety laws is to protect law-abiding citizens,” said Priest. “Any laws that make that more difficult are going to do more harm than good.”
If it comes to fruition, the bill will cast a wide net. A 2014 Pew Research Center study found that about a third of all Americans have guns in their households, a statistic confirmed by a 2015 study by Boston University.
The Boston University research further documented statistics by state and showed that while North Carolina has a higher gun ownership rate than the national average, the Tar Heel State has fewer households with guns than any of its closest neighbors. Only 28.7 percent of state households have guns, compared to 44.4 percent in South Carolina, 31.6 percent in Georgia, 39.4 percent in Tennessee, 42.4 percent in Kentucky, and 29.3 percent in Virginia.
While every home may not have a gun, those that do make up for the others. Wikipedia claims there are more guns than people in North Carolina — 112 firearms for every 100 residents.
“Most people in the state are in favor of common sense gun regulations,” Insko commented.
House Bill 723, albeit the lengthiest, wasn’t the only bill pertaining to weaponry. Filed April 5, House Bill 612 proposes the state develop firearms education course for high schools. Offered as an elective, the course would “incorporate history, mathematics, and science related to firearms and firearm safety education as recommended by law enforcement agencies or a firearms association.”
“The ROTC already has a marksmanship program, which they’ve had for years, and they use .22 rifles,” commented Maj. Larry Guyton, with the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office. “And anyone that wants to get a hunting license has to take a hunter safety course, so it’s already being done.”
The class would be developed by the North Carolina Board of Education and could possibly begin as early as the fall of 2017.
Both House Bill 612 and House Bill 723 passed first readings this week and were referred, respectively, to the Committee on Education and the Judiciary Committee.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.