Advocates say enhanced background checks for gun buyers under 21 might have stopped the mass shooting by an 18-year-old gunman in Uvalde, Texas. Photo by Jinitzail Hernandez
Advocates say enhanced background checks for gun buyers under 21 might have stopped the mass shooting by an 18-year-old gunman in Uvalde, Texas. Photo by Jinitzail Hernandez

The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, signed by President Biden on Saturday, is largely viewed as a step in the right direction. But state lawmakers have a part to play as well.

North Carolina’s two GOP senators signed on to a bill aimed at curbing gun violence last week that got support from both Republicans and Democrats alike and was signed into law by President Joe Biden.

So does that mean big changes on guns and gun violence are coming to the Old North State?

Yes … and no. Let’s explain where we are.

Biden called the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act the biggest step on gun reform in a generation. “While this bill doesn’t do everything I want, it does include actions I’ve long called for that are going to save lives,” Biden said in a June 25 speech.   

The bill passed with support from North Carolina’s US Sens. Thom Tillis and Richard Burr, both Republicans who have received millions from groups that oppose legislation on firearms like the National Rifle Association. But all of North Carolina’s GOP representatives in the US House—including Rep. Ted Budd, who’s running for Senate—voted against the bill, mirroring a split in the Republican Party that is consequential for our state. 

First, here’s what the bill does:

  • enhances background checks for gun buyers under the age of 21, which proponents say might have stopped the mass shooting by an 18-year-old gunman in Uvalde, Texas, which killed 19 students and two teachers
  • adds millions of dollars to a grant program to create crisis intervention programs as an incentive for states to put in place “red flag” laws aimed at curbing domestic violence-related killings and suicides
  • adds those convicted of domestic abuse, as well as those with restraining orders connected to domestic abuse, to the federal background check system, eliminating the so-called “boyfriend loophole
  • and adds funding nationally toward mental health and school safety programs. 

Experts say the biggest changes that could prevent mass shootings would include an assault weapons ban, enforcing more effective background checks and taking away guns from those who should not have weapons. 

Still, even though the measure doesn’t include those or other reforms discussed earlier, the bill is viewed as a step in the right direction. 

North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s policy director Kathleen Lockwood told CBS 17 that North Carolina has already somewhat addressed the “boyfriend loophole,” as those who are unmarried can have a protective order taken out against them here and access to firearms restricted. 

Other changes—like increased mental health funding—may have a positive impact on gun violence, if less direct. 

One of the biggest areas of the bill that could help North Carolina is a new “red flag” law that would allow people to ask a judge to limit someone’s access to firearms if they are deemed a danger to the community.

And even though Burr and Tillis agreed with providing millions for states like North Carolina to enact such a law, state lawmakers here would have to agree. Democratic state Reps. Caleb Rudow and Marcia Morey and state Sen. Natalie Murdock have been pushing for such a law in recent weeks. 

But they’ve been met with resistance from GOP leaders. 

“A lot of the legislation that’s being pushed by those on the political left is really just gun control and it would simply take guns away from law-abiding citizens,” House Speaker Tim Moore told the News and Observer.

So, while “red flag” laws appear dead for the moment, the dollars for school safety and mental health are very much in play for places like North Carolina.