Commentary

Curbing gun violence: Another plea for finding common ground | Rob Schofield

As a fast-growing mountain of news reports makes clearer by the day, gun violence of all kinds is out of control

(Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images/NC Policy Watch).

By Rob Schofield

Several years ago, while driving in Raleigh to what was then a regular, weekly breakfast with my (now deceased) mom, I found myself at a stoplight, briefly shouting and shaking my fist in what, I later realized, could have appeared to reasonable observers to be a moment of angry road rage.

In fact, the object of my ire was not some perceived slight from another driver. Rather, I was – in the spirit of millions of Americans who take their work and its subject matter much too seriously – talking back to my car radio as it played what seemed to me an especially maddening news report about a politician who had taken what struck me as a particularly ignorant and hateful action.

Unfortunately, one observer who interpreted my fury in a very different way was a person of whom I had scarcely been aware until that moment: the driver stopped in front of me. Within seconds of witnessing my brief display in her rearview mirror, she was gesticulating angrily in my direction.

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Instantly realizing the stupidity of my actions, I raised my hands, palms out, in the the most nonthreatening way I could conjure, mouthed an apology, and pointed gingerly toward my car’s dashboard. “No, no, I was yelling at the radio!” I tried, absurdly and impotently, to convey.

Soon, the light had turned green, but my fellow motorist wasn’t ready to let things go. I saw her reach across her front seat, grab something and turn again in my direction. After a flash of panic – “my God, what is she doing?!” – my split second of terror was transformed into a real-life Seinfeld or Curb Your Enthusiasm moment as it became evident that what she had grabbed was not a gun, but her cellphone. She then snapped multiple photos of a hapless character she evidently perceived to be a dangerous maniac.

After that, she burned rubber and sped off at top speed – apparently with my frazzled image memorialized on her phone.

Of course, the hard truth of this ridiculous story is that it’s likely a very good thing it didn’t happen in 2022. As a fast-growing mountain of news reports continues to make clearer by the day, gun violence of all kinds in our state and nation is out of control.

The Guardian reports that a new study by University of Michigan researchers published in the New England Journal of Medicine finds that U.S. firearm-related deaths spiked by 33% in 2020 to a record high of 45,222. The same study reports that, among children and adolescents, gun violence surpassed automobile accidents as the number one cause of death.

Here in our state, the good people at North Carolinians Against Gun Violence recently reported that there were 1,699 firearm-related deaths in 2020. The biggest single subcategory: suicides.

Meanwhile, mass shootings – a phenomenon of which even a single incident would send most civilized nations into a state of crisis and deep introspection – seem to have become as common in the U.S. as freeway traffic jams.

So what to do?

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One thing that’s clearly not going to happen anytime soon is the widespread enactment of tough, generalized gun control laws. Notwithstanding their popularity with most Americans, it’s clear that, for the foreseeable future, the stop-at-almost-nothing passion of pro-gun advocates makes that a political impossibility.

What one can at least imagine happening, however, is this: the enactment and preservation of some very modest rules and programs that could still save hundreds of lives, while doing nothing of significance to threaten the basic notion of a generalized right to bear arms.

Among the extremely minimal protections that can and have worked here and elsewhere:

  • The establishment of a statewide firearm “safe storage” initiative that would provide free training and gun locks to all North Carolina firearm owners. A bill to do this actually passed the state House 116-1 in 2019, but then stalled without public explanation in the Senate.
  • Following the lead of 19 other states by enacting a law to allow for the issuance of “extreme risk protection orders”– orders that, much like domestic violence protection orders, allow judges, upon a finding a of facts, to direct troubled individuals to temporarily surrender their firearms. Despite repeated attempts, a bill proposing this in North Carolina has never received a hearing.
  • The preservation of North Carolina’s venerable and modest pistol permit system, which assures that there is at least some very minimal check on would-be handgun purchasers who seek to buy from sellers not covered by the federal background check law. Gov. Cooper vetoed a bill to repeal this protection and let’s hope it holds. When Missouri repealed a similar law, firearm deaths spiked.

As I was reminded to my everlasting embarrassment that day at the intersection, angry and tense confrontations are frighteningly easy to precipitate, or even stumble into, in our modern, stressed-out, gun-saturated society. In such an environment, anything we can do create even a small hurdle or two for those who might reach for a gun in response is an obvious path to pursue.

Opinion contributor Rob Schofield has has three decades of experience as a lawyer, lobbyist, writer and commentator. He is the director of NC Policy Watch, a sibling site of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this piece first appeared.

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