DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — A Durham lawmaker has proposed legislation that would allow citizens to petition a court to seize a person’s guns if they fear they pose a danger to the public or to themselves.
North Carolina State Representative Marcia Morey filed House Bill 525 which would allow a family member, a law enforcement agency or health care provider to file a petition to have an individual’s firearms removed.
There would be an ex-parte hearing where the person seeking the protection would go to court and swear to facts about the case. If a judge finds the risk of harm to be great enough, an order would be signed to have the gun owner’s firearms immediately taken.
Within five to 10 days, the gun owner will be notified of a hearing that will allow them to present their case to have the guns either returned or removed for up to a year.
“It’s just heartbreaking every time you see another mass shooting and where you see Durham has had a record number of shootings,” Morey said. “As a judge, I would hear testimony after a tragedy where they saw these warning signs and they wished there was something they could have done to get the guns out of the hands of the wrong person.”
Just this week in Watauga County, 32-year-old Isaac Barnes shot and killed his mother, stepfather, two sheriff deputies, and then himself, officials say.
Authorities in Boone said the family had voiced concerns before the incident happened that Barnes might try to do something like this and they knew he had a cachet of weapons.
“Since we don’t have an extreme risk protective order in place, there was nothing that could be done,” Morey said.
But Morey said this bill could help prevent future tragedies like that one.
“It’s a safe, preventative measure, it doesn’t take away anyone’s Second Amendment rights,” Morey said.
But some groups have spoken out against it.
One reason is because the hearings would be “ex parte,” which means the gun owner may not have a chance to give their side in court at the first hearing.
“Most people when they are served with these orders, don’t even know a hearing existed until the police show up to confiscate their firearms,” said Paul Valone, president of Grass Roots North Carolina.
NRA Training Counselor Rhonda Allen said she fears some in the community might abuse this petition process.
“This is just a pure attack on our constitutional protections,” Allen said. “Making people guilty of something they haven’t done when we’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty in this country is putting the cart before the horse in an attempt to confiscate our guns.”
But Morey said only gun owners exhibiting dangerous behavior could have their guns confiscated and this is all about preventing a tragedy rather than reacting to one.
“Unfortunately, we wait for tragedies to happen,” Morey said. “I’m a firm believer in the Second Amendment, but it’s not an absolute. We have to use our common sense and limit it if someone is going to die by a firearm.”
Durham County Sheriff Clarence Birkhead said he supports HB 525.
“I have always been a supporter of responsible gun ownership,” Birkhead said. “The State of North Carolina has proposed red flag laws before which I supported. I will continue to work with State Rep. Marcia Morey on this legislation. As sheriff, I look forward to continuing to work with our federal and state partners and other local law enforcement agencies to combat local gun violence and gun trafficking.”
Morey said the bill has been proposed three times in the last three years. She said the bill has been sent to a rules committee and right now there is no word on when it will be heard.