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  Originally cited at http://www.common-sense.org/Publications/Issue_papers/september_99.html

 Issue papers

Common Sense Says...

that, when a child age 17 or younger dies every five days as a result of a gun injury, stricter gun laws are needed to limit the accessibility of guns.

While recent shootings have generated media attention, there are hundreds of unpublicized incidents of gun violence in America every day. In the US, an average of 87 people die each day as a result of gun injuries.1 Gun violence costs not just lives; it also costs $2.3 billion each year in medical expenses with taxpayers footing the bill for half of that amount.2

Omissions and loopholes in current gun laws contribute to the increasing human and financial costs of gun violence. For example, NC law does not grant people a driver's license until they complete a driving course and an examination, yet the law allows people to purchase a gun without requiring any sort of training in gun safety. By requiring gun safety training and strengthening gun laws, state policymakers can reduce gun violence-a problem that occurs at a disturbing rate in NC.

Gun Violence in NC
North Carolina ranks ninth in the US in gun homicides per capita.3 Suicide by firearm is also more frequent in NC than in the US as a whole.4 In 1998, firearms were used in 67 percent of murders, 47 percent of robberies, and 30 percent of aggravated assaults committed in North Carolina.5 Guns were also used in two-thirds of NC suicides in 1995.6

Among North Carolina juveniles, gun violence is even more alarming. Every five days in NC, a child age 17 or younger is killed by a gun in a homicide, suicide, or accidental shooting.7 Between 1986 and 1996, the firearm death rate for ages 5-14 rose 66 percent, and for ages 15-24, the rate increased 46 percent.8 In addition, the number of weapons violations for North Carolina minors more than tripled, going from 417 to 1,491.9

Problems with NC Gun Laws
These statistics indicate that gun violence among youth is a serious problem in NC. They also suggest that our gun laws are not sufficient to keep guns out of juveniles' hands. In a recent report card issued to states by Handgun Control, Incorporated, NC received a grade of C for its laws protecting youths from guns.10 The report criticized NC for its lack of regulation of gun shows, its licensing of concealed weapons, and its prohibition of local ordinances to regulate guns.

North Carolina's lax regulation of guns has also gotten the state national attention as the 10th largest exporter of illegal guns to other states. In 1998, NC exported at least 2,790 guns. That year, investigators in New York traced the weapons used in 20 murders back to either North or South Carolina.11

Gunrunners flock to southern states to buy guns because the regulations are not as strict as those in northeastern states. For example, in New York City, it can take up to six months to get a handgun purchase permit. In NC, the waiting period for the permit is essentially the length of time that it takes the sheriff to process the background check-a period that is sometimes only one day. Furthermore, unlike some states that have a "one-gun-a-month law," NC has no limitation on the numbers of guns that an individual can purchase. A person can purchase multiple long guns at one time and can buy any number of handguns as long as she or he has a permit for each handgun purchased.12

North Carolina's weak gun laws increase the availability of guns and the potential for gun violence. Research has demonstrated the link between gun ownership and gun violence: the more guns that are accessible, the more likely these guns will result in accidents and be used in homicides and suicides.13 Guns are readily accessible in NC: 66 percent of NC poll respondents in 1994 grew up in a home with at least one gun.14 Ironically, the possession of a firearm to protect one's home actually places the home's occupants at greater risk of gun violence. People who live in homes where guns are present are five times more likely to experience a suicide and three times more likely to experience a homicide than people who live in gun-free homes.15

Strengthen Gun Laws
Limiting access to guns will reduce gun violence.16 One way that law enforcement can limit the accessibility of guns is to crack down on improper gun sales. For example, the Wake County Sheriff's office recently charged six people outside a gun show with selling handguns without verifying that the buyers have state-issued permits to purchase guns.17 Since 30 percent of guns used in crimes are purchased at gun shows and NC ranks seventh in the nation in the number of shows it hosts, stricter enforcement of laws at NC gun shows could shut down a pipeline of weapons to people who cannot obtain a permit to legally purchase guns.18

In the past legislative session, lawmakers failed to vote on a bill to require private individuals who sell firearms at gun shows to check for handgun purchase permits and do background checks on potential buyers of other firearms. Legislators should pass this bill in the 2000 session. They should also allocate resources for law enforcement at gun shows. Right now, no state agency is responsible for monitoring gun shows. Regulation falls to each county law enforcement agency. By enabling law enforcement agencies such as the State Bureau of Investigation and the Division of Alcohol Law Enforcement to monitor and regulate gun dealers and gun shows, the State could provide consistent enforcement of gun laws and keep guns away from criminals.

In addition, NC should pass a One-Gun-A-Month law. When Virginia limited gun purchases to one gun per person per month, guns purchased from Virginia rather than other southeastern states fell 70 percent and the state's share of guns used in crimes and traced back to Virginia fell 54 percent.19 Lawmakers should also require the successful completion of a handgun safety training course before one can obtain a permit to buy a firearm.

Finally, NC should assign stricter penalties to adults who allow children access to guns. In 1996, 88 percent of the guns that resulted in juvenile deaths were not stored safely. Seventy-five percent of the guns used in juvenile suicides were improperly stored.20 Right now, NC law does not even define what constitutes safe storage of guns. Lawmakers should require that firearms be stored unloaded in a locked container or with a trigger lock and that ammunition be stored separately. In addition, policymakers should apply the safe storage law to any home where children may occasionally be present. Currently, the law only applies to homes where children reside.

These recommended policy changes should be just the beginning of stricter gun control in this state. Five days from now, another NC youth will die from a gun injury. How many more must die before lawmakers make changes to our gun policies? Enacting stiff measures of gun control will reduce gun violence, lower the costs to taxpayers, and most importantly, save lives.

1 Editorial. 8/23/99. "What Must Be Done." Newsweek.
2 Stancill, Jane. 8/4/99. "Study Puts Cost of Gun Violence at $2.3 Billion." The News and Observer.
3 Information from the NC State Bureau of Investigation.
4 Surles, Kathryn B. August 1998. "Suicide in North Carolina." SCHS Studies, No. 110. Raleigh, NC: State Center for Health Statistics.
5 Crime in North Carolina-1998. Raleigh, NC: State Bureau of Investigation.
6 Surles, Kathryn B. August 1998. "Suicide in North Carolina." SCHS Studies, No. 110. Raleigh, NC: State Center for Health Statistics.
7 Data from the Office of the NC Chief Medical Examiner, 1997.
8 Surles, Kathyrn B. September 1998. "Firearm Deaths in North Carolina-1986-1996." Statistical Brief, No. 17. Raleigh, NC: State Center for Health Statistics.
9 Crime in North Carolina-1996. Raleigh, NC: State Bureau of Investigation.
10 Handgun Control Press Release. "After Columbine…North Carolina Receives
'Back to School' Grade of C On Laws Protecting Kids From Guns." 8/27/99.
11 Associated Press. 3/1/99. "NC 10th Among Gun Exporters." The News and Observer.
12 North Carolina Firearm Laws. January 1999. North Carolina Department of Justice: Law Enforcement Liasion Section. p. 2.
13 Krug, E.G., Powell, K.E., and L.L. Dahlberg. 1998. "Firearm-Related Deaths in the United States and 35 Other High- and Upper-Middle Income Countries." International Journal of Epidemiology, Vol 27.
14 Carolina Poll. Fall 1994. UNC School of Journalism.
15 Kellermann, Arthur L. et al. 1992. "Suicide in the Home in Relation to Gun Ownership." The New Journal of Medicine, Vol. 327, No. 7, pp. 467-472.
16 Krug, E.G., Powell, K.E., and L.L. Dahlberg. 1998. "Firearm-Related Deaths in the United States and 35 Other High- and Upper-Middle Income Countries." International Journal of Epidemiology, Vol 27.
17 Nelson, Todd. 8/18/99. "Prices Limit Gun-Show Sting." The News and Observer.
18 Price, Lisa. 7/15/99. "Point of View: The Struggle for Safer Gun Sales." The News and Observer.
19 Handgun Control and the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence. Progress Report. Fall 1997.
20 Herman-Giddens, Marcia. 1996. Report to the NC Child Fatality Task Force.

For additional information, contact:

North Carolinians Against Gun Violence Education Fund


Phone: (919) 821-9270
Fax: (919) 821-3669
P.O. Box 10808   Raleigh, NC 27605-0808
E-mail: alex@common-sense.org