North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper launches firearm storage program to address gun violence and thefts

Tribune Content Agency

RALEIGH, N.C. — Gov. Roy Cooper launched a firearm safety education initiative Monday in an effort to curb gun deaths among children and firearm thefts in North Carolina.

The NC Secure All Firearms Effectively initiative primarily focuses on educating North Carolina communities about secure gun storage in cars and houses. The $2.5 million effort will include a weeklong tour around the state to encourage safe firearm storage, as well as a statewide media campaign until January.

Many North Carolinians will be receptive to the initiative’s effort to secure guns properly, Cooper said, in part due to gun violence rising at an alarming rate. Firearms have become the leading cause of death among children from ages 1 to 17 in the state, according to the Research Triangle Institute.

“People don’t want to see their child in a pool of blood accidentally shot,” Cooper said. “People don’t want their guns used for suicide. They don’t want their guns stolen to be used in a commission of a felony.”

Efforts to expand gun safety education in North Carolina schools are also part of the NC SAFE initiative, said NC Department of Public Safety Deputy Secretary William Lassiter. The program — Educating Kids about Guns — was launched in 13 school districts last year.

Preventing youth deaths by firearms isn’t the only aim of Cooper’s new program — addressing gun thefts across the state is another focal point.

In Raleigh, 582 guns were stolen from cars in 2022, Raleigh Police Department Chief Estella Patterson said. In Durham, 331 guns were stolen last year, Lassiter said.

The rise in gun thefts — up 45% in Raleigh between 2020 and 2021 — can be attributed to factors like an increase in gun ownership and looser gun restrictions, experts say. Gun owners’ carelessness plays a role as well, with many gun thefts being from unlocked cars.

NC SAFE will distribute around 25,000 gun locks and 200 gun safes initially, Lassiter said. The program will also collaborate with local law enforcement departments across the state to educate communities on proper gun storage.

The program joins other gun safety initiatives launched out of the governor’s office, including the Office of Violence Prevention established by a March executive order. The office, formed under the state Department of Public Safety, aims to use public awareness campaigns to mitigate firearm misuse.

Cooper and the Republican-controlled state legislature have been at odds over gun legislation this year, culminating with lawmakers overriding the Democratic governor’s veto on eliminating a requirement for a permit to buy a handgun. The bill also implemented a safe storage education initiative.

Another bill that would have allowed permitless concealed carry stalled in the House in early May.

The initiative also comes nearly eight months after a mass shooting in Raleigh’s Hedingham neighborhood that killed five people. The suspected shooter was a 15-year-old Knightdale High School student.