By Sharon Zhang / Truthout
Just two days after three children and three adults were killed in a horrific school shooting in Tennessee, Republicans in neighboring North Carolina overrode a governor’s veto for the first time in five years in order to weaken gun laws in the state.
In a party line vote on Wednesday, just 48 hours after the shooting at The Covenant School, the North Carolina House voted 71 to 46 to override the Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto. The state Senate had voted the day before, in another party line vote, to do the same.
The legislature’s vote means that the state will no longer require people to obtain a permit, which includes a background check for offenses like domestic violence, to buy a handgun. Opponents of the bill have pointed out that the legislation will make it so that there will be no background checks required in private gun sales or sales between individuals. Federal background checks will still be required at licensed dealers, though purchases at licensed dealers represent a minority of gun sales across the country.
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The law will also expand the ability of people to carry guns in churches that share property with a school outside of school hours, and will expand the ability of law enforcement to concealed carry.
“Hours after children were shot to death in their school, NC GOP leaders announced a vote to eliminate strong NC background checks and make it easier for dangerous people to buy guns and take them on some school grounds. Outrageous,” Cooper wrote in a tweet on Tuesday. “I am mourning the loss of these children and school staff. Parents woke up fearful. Children woke up anxious. We don’t need to live this way and our kids don’t need to die this way. Lawmakers should stop going backward and start moving forward on gun safety.”
“While six families woke up this morning in Nashville grieving the agonizing loss of their children and loved ones, we are here today to make it easier for people hell-bent on causing mass carnage to buy a gun,” said state Sen. Sydney Batch, a Democrat.
While Democrats condemned the timing of the bill as particularly heinous, this is a regular practice of Republicans. Whenever lawmakers call for gun control at the federal level, Republicans strike fear into their base that Democrats are trying to take away their guns — and use that momentum to loosen gun laws, often just weeks or days after a mass shooting.
After the tragedy in Uvalde, Texas, last year, in which 19 children and two adults were killed at an elementary school, Republican lawmakers across the country pushed to loosen gun laws. Since 2020, Republicans have nixed permit requirements for handguns in nine states, bringing the total number of states with no permit requirement to 25.
Experts say that this is the fastest loosening of gun laws at the state level seen in modern history, per The New York Times — and it comes as, in the past few years, the U.S. has seen an uptick of mass shootings and school shootings. Last year, the number of school shootings hit a record high, according to The Washington Post.
Perhaps one of the most cynical aspects of this practice has been Republicans’ public responses to the violence. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, insisted directly after the shooting that the public should not seek “blame” for the incident and that it was not the time to talk about policy — likely because the state loosened gun laws ahead of the shooting. Notably, the shooter bought all seven guns they had legally, which some are blaming directly on the state’s lax gun policies.
One House Republican went even further. Just hours after the shooting, Tennessee Rep. Tim Burchett said that Congress is powerless to stop gun violence. “We’re not going to fix it,” he said. He then suggested that the U.S. could only stop the violence by converting to a Christian nation.
Evidence tells another story about gun violence. The U.S. is the only country that allows such widespread gun ownership and is also the only country that has such a large amount of gun deaths; other countries don’t even come close. Even within the U.S., research hasrepeatedly found that states with weak gun laws have higher rates of gun deaths.
But in spite of this evidence — and in the face of tens of thousands of gun deaths in the U.S. each year — Republicans are taking steps to make gun violence worse, while claiming they couldn’t possibly do anything to make it better.
Sharon Zhang is a news writer at Truthout covering politics, climate and labor. Before coming to Truthout, Sharon had written stories for Pacific Standard, The New Republic, and more. She has a master’s degree in environmental studies. She can be found on Twitter: @zhang_sharon.