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NC Democrats Talk Up Gun-Law Proposals

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Several North Carolina Democratic lawmakers unveiled gun restriction and school safety proposals Monday in response to the Florida school shooting, calling those "common sense" ideas that Republicans have already supported elsewhere.

The five House and Senate members from urban counties unveiled gun changes similar to those that Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper announced last week that he wanted the GOP-controlled General Assembly to approve.

Those include expanding background checks currently required for handguns to sales of assault-style weapons, raising the purchase age for assault guns from 18 to 21 and creating a method for a court to order guns be taken temporarily from people determined to be a danger to themselves or their community. Also like Cooper, the legislators want to ban bump stock devices, which allow guns to mimic fully automatic fire.

In addition, the legislators want more money to hire school psychologists and counselors. They also propose the state's Center for Safer Schools be tasked with determining how many more police officers in schools are needed.

Cooper's proposal came the same day students in high schools across the country and in North Carolina walked out of class in solidarity to seek action on gun violence. Some legislators speaking Monday attended walkouts or had sat down with teenagers to discuss their requests.

"What I say to our youth is we will do something," said Rep. Marcia Morey, a Durham County Democrat. "We can do sensible reforms for our youth."

Exactly what is done will depend on the level of support from Republicans in the House and Senate, who have a history of loosening restrictions on lawfully held guns. A House committee will meet for the first time Wednesday and examine school safety in the aftermath of the Feb. 14 school shooting rampage that claimed 17 lives in Parkland, Florida.

Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, a Wake County Democrat, said he hopes the committee would consider the ideas and General Assembly leaders ultimately allow a vote on the package. The legislature's primary work session begins in mid-May.

House Majority Leader John Bell of Wayne County didn't respond to requests left with his office about the package and whether GOP caucus members could support such changes. Wednesday's school safety committee meeting will include presentations on physical security at schools and mental health services, according to the committee's draft agenda. Students on a school safety task force also will speak.

"We want committee members to absorb as much information as possible prior to a discussion about current law and potential policy proposals," GOP Rep. David Lewis of Harnett County, a committee chairman, said in a release.

Chaudhuri and other speakers said many of the same gun proposals are like those approved earlier this month by the Republican-controlled Florida legislature and GOP Gov. Rick Scott. They also mentioned support from President Donald Trump, although he recently backed off of pressing more gun restrictions.

There were no Republicans at the Legislative Building's lectern Monday to endorse the package, but the Democrats don't believe their ideas are dead. Morey said she has spoken privately with Republican colleagues about the plan.

"This is the beginning of a real conversation," Chaudhuri said, adding the news conference also helps "convey a message to Republicans in the General Assembly that we are interested in finding common ground."

The package also would expand statewide a pilot program in which students could send anonymous tips about school safety concerns with their electronic devices.

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