As a new academic year begins, excitement from students and teachers alike is reviving schools and universities across the state, and NC State in particular has been preparing for the largest incoming first-year class in its history. In Madison County, the public school system is gearing up for the school year with a different newcomer: AR-15s.
Yes, you read that right. In response to the Uvalde school shooting last spring, the Madison County Sheriff’s department has decided to arm each of the six schools in the district with the same style gun that killed 19 children and two teachers in Texas. In an effort to enhance security, one of these semiautomatic weapons will be placed in each school and made available to the school’s resource officers. The growing role of police presence in schools to keep kids safe is hotly contested, but Madison County’s new policy falls right in line with North Carolina’s recent trajectory in the gun discussion.
While the nation’s calls for comprehensive gun action in the summer resulted in the most significant federal gun legislation for decades, North Carolina’s state legislation has remained inactive because of partisan divides. Democrats, along with the endorsement of Governor Roy Cooper, have offered several gun control bills since 2021. However, they have stalled in committee, with a Republican-controlled General Assembly obstructing their progression. The most recent gun legislation to make it to the governor’s desk was an attempt to remove permit requirements for pistols, North Carolina’s one credible provision in preventing gun violence.
The bill was passed along party lines and promptly vetoed by Governor Cooper, a sequence not foreign to the state’s gun politics. In the same summer, the Governor vetoed a Republican-backed bill to allow open and concealed carry in churches that share a venue with private schools. In 2020, Cooper vetoed a similar bill.
These efforts by the state legislature are in the opposite direction of where North Carolina should be aiming on guns. The state has the eighth most guns in the country and consistently ranks in the top 10 for most firearm deaths. According to Giffords Law Center, this amounts to over 1,300 deaths a year and makes guns the third leading cause of death for children in the state.
These numbers reflect an underwhelming catalog of gun restrictions in North Carolina. In the state, there is no law barring the purchase of a gun and giving it to someone else. The state does not require a comprehensive registration of firearms. There is no state licensing requirement to purchase or own a long gun, being a shotgun or rifle. While a purchase from a licensed dealer is subject to a required background check, no such provision exists for a purchase from a private seller. The state is also without red flag laws or magazine capacity limits. The absence of restrictions in North Carolina is comparable to the same deficiencies in Texas that allowed the Uvalde shooter to conduct a massacre.
Laws regulating gun ownership have been one of the most contentious issues in American politics for decades. An abundance of case studies and academia in recent years mostly point towards stronger gun control as the solution. States that have implemented tougher laws see less gun violence and prevent mass shootings. Entire countries that enact similar policies find the same results. Even if the effects are in the capacity of a few percentage points, those are potentially hundreds of lives spared.
The conjecture that has given life to the gun debate has driven North Carolina down the wrong path. The news coming out of Madison County is no surprise given the misguided dialogue on the subject. Facts and awareness of our state’s position on guns is imperative to the understanding of everyone at NC State, all of whom are subject to the dangers of a school campus in the United States. One of the country’s worst and most well-deserved stigmas is its political complacency in gun violence; our community and state should avoid the same complicit reputation.