Gun rights webinar in Oxford lightly attended

Mar. 20, 2013 @ 08:27 PM

“Gun Control and the Second Amendment” was the topic of a webinar attended by about 25 people at the Granville County Expo and Convention Center on Wednesday.

Slides were projected on the center’s large screen while voices of the presenters were piped into the auditorium. Frayda Bluestein, professor of public law and government at the UNC School of Government, coordinated the presentation. Jeff Welty, an attorney and assistant professor at the institution, provided commentary.

They began with a discussion of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which reads: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

Welty pointed out, “Advocates of gun control emphasize the first part. Proponents of gun rights tend to emphasize the second part.”

Gun ownership in the United States is the highest of any other country, with 88.8 gun owners per 100 population. “That’s almost one per person,” Welty said.

Several graphs displayed data related to gun ownership, including homicides, suicides and defensive use of guns.

Homicides involving guns have been on a downward trend, from a high of 14,000 in 1993 to about 8,000 in 2008, the last year for which data was shown.

A ban on assault weapons was in force between 1994 and 2004, Welty said. A ban on assault weapons that is currently being considered by Congress has been tabled, he said, so “a discussion of a possible ban may be moot.”

Another federal bill being considered is to require background checks for private gun sales.

“Dealers must do a background check,” Welty said. “Private sellers do not.”

Welty said federal law places limits on who can possess a firearm. Prohibited from possessing a gun are felons, drug users, the mentally deficient and illegal aliens. Age limits are also specified.

In contrasting the state Constitution and federal Constitution with respect to gun rights, Welty said, “The North Carolina Constitution has been interpreted to guarantee a broader right to keep and bear arms.”

He went on to say, “Federal law trumps state law.”

However, local law enforcement officials have no obligation to enforce federal restrictions on gun possession, but they cannot interfere with federal officials’ attempts to enforce the law.

In North Carolina, a permit issued by a local law enforcement official is required to purchase a firearm and for carrying a concealed weapon. Welty said the law states the sheriff “shall” issue the permit, although it gives local officials discretion about whom they can deny a permit. One reason is because of “mental infirmity,” which Welty said is not defined.

Other restrictions in state law include a business owner’s right to prohibit guns on his property and the right of local governments to restrict guns on certain kinds of public property. In addition, local government can exert some control over gun dealers in their zoning ordinances, but only if the restriction is the same for other types of businesses.

In concluding the presentation, Welty said the conflict between gun rights and gun control is an over-riding issue of the day.

“People on both sides show a lack of understanding,” Welty said. “Extremes on both sides are not workable. My hope is that we can find a little bit of common ground.”

 

Contact the writer at dirvine@hendersondispatch.com.