By Thomas Goldsmith
Young voices spoke out at the General Assembly on Tuesday to support a proposed “extreme risk protection order,” a legal device which arms a court to order the removal of a gun from someone at risk of harming himself or someone else.
With a crowd of activist high school students looking on, Democratic sponsors announced the introduction of legislation, HB 454, that would create the order, known as an ERPO. Nico Gleason, 16, from Greensboro’s Grimsley High School, talked about the lobbying effort he’s undertaking with other members from the advocacy group March for Our Lives North Carolina.
“We just really want to find common ground,” Gleason said.
Rep. Marcia Morey (D-Durham) said that 14 other states have adopted extreme risk protection orders. Durham County Sheriff Clarence Birkhead said he supports the measure.
“I think ERPOs are an incredible way to start common-sense gun legislation,” Gleason said.
Paul Valone, president of the gun rights group Grass Roots North Carolina, said he is strongly opposed to the use of ERPOs to take guns away from owners, calling the process a violation of citizen rights under the Constitution.
“I challenge you to find any other constitutionally protected right that can be taken away without due process,” Valone said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “The defendant may not even know that the procedure is under way.”
Nationally, young people and notably high school students have gained high visibility in gun-safety efforts since a gunman massacred 17 Stoneman Douglas High School students in Florida on Valentine’s Day 2018. According to press accounts, the man accused in the Stoneman Douglas shooting had shown many “red flags,” or the kinds of warnings that could possibly lead to an extreme risk protection order.
“As a judge I heard often witnesses testify that they knew something bad would happen,” Morey said. “After the story was written we hear there were warning signs.”
Birkhead, elected in 2018, said that officers acting within the ERPO guidelines would create a process for enacting such an order. It would start with officers visiting the home of the person who is a potential risk, just as they do in cases of reported domestic violence.[sponsor]
If the person gives up his firearm, the officers take it, to be returned in a year. If the person doesn’t cooperate, officers can ask a judge for a court order.
“Plain and simple, this bill makes sense,” Birkhead said.
Morey and Birkhead were joined by Reps. Pricey Harrison (D-Greensboro), Grier Martin (D-Raleigh), Christy Clark (D-Mecklenburg) and Moms Demand Action volunteer Kaaren Haldeman in supporting the bill.
Democrats faced questions on why they would reintroduce legislation that didn’t make it out of the Rules Committee last year.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Morey said. “We’re not giving up and we’ll be here next year if we don’t get this heard.”
Correction: This story originally misspelled Paul Valone’s name as Paul Vallone.