Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough Jr. says he supports responsible gun ownership in the aftermath of Congress passing gun safety legislation and the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that expanded gun rights for Americans.
“I’m 100% for responsible gun ownership and for making our community safer,” Kimbrough said. “In my opinion, more people will be apt to carry guns.
“Whether that makes our community more or less safe remains to be seen,” Kimbrough said. “I’m sure it makes the person carrying the gun feel safer.”
Local and state residents have various views about guns, the sheriff said.
“However, at the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, we don’t enforce opinions, we enforce the law,” Kimbrough said. “At the end of the day, it comes back to responsible gun ownership.
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“The (sheriff’s office) has always and always will enforce the laws of the land, as we are a law-abiding law enforcement agency,” Kimbrough said.
Since 2019, the sheriff’s office has issued 21,020 concealed handgun permits to Forsyth County residents, said Christina Howell, an agency spokeswoman. That number includes 2,628 concealed handgun permits issued from Jan. 1 to June 30, Howell said.
‘Lives will be saved’
On June 25, President Joe Biden signed into law the most sweeping gun violence bill in decades, following a recent series of mass shootings in Texas, New York state and California.
At a White House ceremony July 11, Biden showcased the new law designed to reduce gun violence.
Biden said the law is "real progress" after years of inaction regarding gun violence. The president lamented the country remains "awash in weapons of war" with the new law being enacted amid gun violence.
Biden served as the host of guests on the White House’s South Lawn, including a bipartisan group of lawmakers who crafted and supported the legislation, state and local officials and families of victims of recent mass shootings and everyday gun violence.
“Because of your work, your advocacy, your courage, lives will be saved today and tomorrow because of this,” Biden said. “We will not save every life from the epidemic of gun violence.
But if the law had been in place years ago, even this last year, lives would have been saved,” Biden said.
Biden repeated his call on Congress to pass a federal ban on assault rifles and high capacity ammunition magazines — or at minimum to require more stringent background checks and training before purchases.
Biden also said Congress should pass legislation to hold gun owners legally accountable if their weapons are improperly stored and are used to commit violence. He noted that he owns four shotguns and said he keeps them secured at his home.
State Rep. Amber Baker, D-Forsyth, said the gun safety legislation is the right approach.
“As a proponent of gun ownership, I also support putting into place laws that reflect responsibility for public safety,” Baker said. “The responsibility to public safety should include, but not limited to background checks, reasonable waiting periods, closing gun show loopholes, and implementing red flag laws.
“With the increase gun violence in Winston Salem, I also support additional funding directed to community programs focused on mentorship for young people, job training programs, and a focus on creating more workforce housing,” Baker said. “While support of local law enforcement is essential to adequately address the gun violence in Winston and indeed the state and the nation, it will take a multi-tiered approach.”
Biden signed the gun-safety legislation two days after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a New York law that restricted its residents’ ability to carry concealed weapons.
The legislation will toughen background checks for people 16 and older who want to buy guns, keep firearm from more domestic violence offenders and help states put in place red flag laws that make it easier for authorities to take weapons from people adjudged to be dangerous.
Biden called the Safer Communities Act “a historic achievement.”
The measure provides $13 billion designed to help bolster mental-health programs and aid security measures within schools, which have been targeted in Newtown, Conn, Parkland, Fla., and elsewhere in mass shootings.
Catrina Thompson, the chief of the Winston-Salem Police Department, declined to comment on the gun-safety legislation or the recent Supreme Court ruling regarding guns, said Kira Boyd, a police spokeswoman.
The court’s ruling doesn’t invalidate a city ordinance that prohibits people from carrying concealed handguns in 52 of the city’s 69 parks, City Attorney Angela Carmon said.
People with concealed-carry handgun permits are allowed to carry guns in the 17 city parks that have no playgrounds, swimming pools or athletic fields. State law doesn’t allow cities to forbid guns at smaller parks that have only benches such as Grace Court or Winston Square Park.
Under state law, people with concealed carry permits can keep guns locked in their vehicle’s trunks, glove boxes or another enclosed compartment in the parks’ parking lots.
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The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services will evaluate any funding opportunities when more details about the legislation become available, said Summer Tonizzo, a spokeswoman for the agency.
Gene Nichol, a law professor at the UNC School of Law, said he supports the federal gun-safety law.
“Anything that helps in this crisis is welcome,” Nichol said. “And this clearly helps, saving lives and showing, hopefully, that we aren’t a barbarous society that won’t even try to save its kids’ lives.”
In a major expansion of gun rights, the Supreme Court ruled that Americans have a right to carry firearms in public for self-defense, a ruling likely to lead to more people legally armed.
“The bipartisan gun safety legislation President Biden signed into law is an important step in the right direction,” said Mary Scott Winstead, a spokeswoman for Gov. Roy Cooper. “However, the Supreme Court’s decision will put more guns on the streets and lead to violence that could be prevented through popular and commonsense gun safety legislation.”
Gun violence is taking too many lives in North Carolina, state Attorney General Josh Stein said.
“It’s past time that the General Assembly and Congress enact commonsense public safety measures to keep guns out of the wrong people’s hands, reduce gun violence, and make our communities safer,” Stein said.
The federal gun-safety legislation is a step in the right direction, Stein said.
“But it’s not enough,” Stein said. “We need universal background checks to keep dangerous people from buying guns.
“We should raise the age that people can buy assault weapons from 18 to 21 — the same age you have to be buy a beer or a cigarette,” Stein said.
“We need red flag laws so people can go to court to prevent people they love from harming themselves or others with a gun,” Stein said. “Gun owners should safely store their guns so they aren’t stolen or used by other family members, especially children.
“And we need to invest in violence intervention programs to respond to cycles of violence in our communities,” Stein said.
About one-quarter of U.S. residents live in states expected to be affected by the court’s ruling, which struck down a New York gun law. The high court’s first major gun decision in more than a decade split the court 6-3, with the court’s conservatives in the majority and liberals in dissent.
Biden said he was “deeply disappointed” by the Supreme Court ruling. It “contradicts both common sense and the Constitution, and should deeply trouble us all,” he said.
Biden then urged states to pass new laws.
“I call on Americans across the country to make their voices heard on gun safety,” the president said. “Lives are on the line.”
Keep and bear arms
The nation’s highest court struck down a New York law requiring people to demonstrate a particular need for carrying a gun in order to get a license to carry a gun in a concealed way in public. The court said that requirement violates the Second Amendment right to “keep and bear arms.”
Associate Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the majority that the Constitution protects “an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home.”
That right is not a “second-class right,” Thomas wrote. “We know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers some special need.”
Ronald Wright, a law professor at the Wake Forest University School of Law, said he doesn’t think that the court’s ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association vs Bruen “will have much effect on the legal framework for gun control in North Carolina.”
The Bruen case involved a New York law that “placed broad restrictions on gun possession in public. North Carolina law places fewer restrictions on gun possession.”
The gun-safety regulation is a modest but a positive measure, Wright said.
“It builds on international experience and the experience of some states in trying to keep guns out of the hands of people most likely to misuse them,” Wright said.
The National Rifle Association said in a statement that the court’s ruling “provides good people the ability to protect themselves and their loved ones outside their home.”
Stein criticized the court’s ruling.
“Unfortunately, the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on guns represents a step backwards in our efforts to pass common sense gun protections, putting more people in danger of being injured or killed by gun violence,” Stein said.
In turn, the NRA criticized the gun safety law.
“The NRA cannot and will not support senseless gun control measures that some in Congress have already said is the just a first step that ‘paves the way’ for additional gun control that will only infringe on the rights of the law-abiding,” the NRA said.
The federal gun safety law should improve public safety, said Tiffany Zhang, a visiting professor of sociology and criminal studies at Salem College.
“The legislation to toughen background checks for the youngest gun buyers and keep guns from people with previous domestic violence offenses against them is an excellent step toward decreasing gun violence,” Zhang said.
“Anyone who has legal intentions with a gun will not be losing any rights,” Zhang said. “Guns were invented for death — originally the death of animals for hunting, later on the death of humans for military use.
“Nobody should be bothered by something as simple as a background check,” Zhang said.
The law also properly targets perpetrators of domestic violence, Zhang said.
“Many of the intimate partner homicides in the United States are the result of a gun, as many as two-thirds of these deaths are due to a gun, Zhang said.
Ninety-two percent of women in an intimate partner violent relationship who were killed with a gun in high income countries in 2015 were from the United States, Zhang said.
“Women in the U.S. are 28 times more likely to die by firearm homicide than women in peer countries,” Zhang said. “Gun access increases likelihood of the abuser killing a female victim by five times.
“States with a higher rate of gun ownership contain 65% of the intimate partner violent firearm homicides,” Zhang said. “The only answer for this problem is to take away the access abusers have for the gun.
“If someone is following the law with their gun use and other activities, their rights won’t be in danger,” Zhang said. “If someone isn’t going to follow the law, they don’t have that right.”
The gun safety law and the Supreme Court’s ruling on guns come at a time when statistics paint a dire picture of gun related deaths in the country.
Gun related deaths
In 2020, there were 45,222 gun-related deaths in the U.S., according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s about 124 people dying from a gun related injury each day.
More than half of gun related deaths were suicides, and more than four out every 10 were gun homicides, the CDC said.
According to the Gun Violence Archive, 5,094 people in North Carolina have died in gun related homicides since 2013, and 9,719 residents have been injured by gunfire during that period.
So far this year, there have been 332 mass shootings, including the July 4 shootings in Highland Park, Ill, the organization said. A gunman there killed seven people and wounded 30.
In April 2021, a bill was introduced in the N.C. House that would have allowed state residents to ask a judge to stop other people who posed a danger to others or themselves from obtaining guns.
Under HB 525, law enforcement officers or concerned citizens could file a court petition to temporarily stop another person’s right to have a gun.
The bill was designed to reduce gun deaths and injuries, but the legislation never made it out of House Rules, Calendar and Operations committee to a full House floor vote.
There are 21 state, federal, county and city laws and ordinances with dozens of provisions that govern the purchase, possession and carrying of firearms and ammunition for state and local residents.
Jeff Welty, a professor of public law and government at UNC School of Government, said he doesn’t believe that the court’s ruling in the Bruen case will invalidate any state laws or local ordinances regarding guns.
“Bruen was about the legality of New York’s ‘may issue’ process for issuing handgun permits,” Welty said. “The court found that process inconsistent with the historical understanding of the right to bear arms and struck it down.
“The court was clear that a ‘shall issue’ permitting process would be lawful if based on objective criteria,” Welty said. “North Carolina’s pistol purchase permit and concealed handgun permit processes are ‘shall issue’ processes based on objective criteria, so I think they’re consistent with Bruen.”
Nichol, the law professor at the UNC School of Law, criticized the court’s ruling, saying it is dangerous and troubling.
“The court did what it said it wouldn’t do in Justice Scalia’s earlier Heller decision — it announced a rule that now threatens the constitutional viability of a huge array of gun regulations,” Nichol said.
“The decision uses a historical standard that is impossible to apply and, stunningly, that rejects the threat of grave danger from the calculus,” Nichol said. “It gives greater protection for the Second Amendment than the other provisions of the Bill of Rights.”
In June 2008, the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 ruling in the Heller vs. District of Columbia case that affirmed the right to have guns for self-defense in the home. The court’s decision struck down the District of Columbia’s ban on handguns and imperiled similar prohibitions in other cities.
The state law that allows local governments to prohibit the carrying of concealed handguns at recreational facilities including athletic fields, parks, swimming pools and gyms is consistent with the court’s ruling in the Heller case, said Carmon, Winston-Salem city’s attorney.
The court’s ruling in the Bruen case reaffirmed that principle, Carmon said.
“So no one can say what will be invalidated in the future because the court gives no ascertainable rule to apply,” Nichol said of its decision on June 23. “All we can know now is that the U.S. Supreme Court will have to entertain lots and lots of Second Amendment cases and the justices have absolutely no competence in gun-safety regulation.
“But that won’t bother them,” Nichol said. “They now operate as a caucus of the Republican Party.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.