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Gov. Cooper launches safe gun storage program with free locks, safes

NC Governor Roy Cooper
Matt Ramey
for WUNC
Gov. Roy Cooper has struggled to find bipartisan support for most gun violence prevention proposals, but he's gotten buy-in from Republicans lawmakers to promote safe gun storage practices.

Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration wants to prevent gun violence and accidents by promoting safe storage practices.

The $2.5 million NC SAFE (Secure All Firearms Effectively) program includes educational ads on TV and social media, and it will give away thousands of free gun locks and safes this year.

Cooper says many people are buying guns for the first time and don’t know how to keep them out of the wrong hands.

"People don’t want to see their child in a pool of blood accidentally shot," he said. "People don’t want their guns used for suicide. They don’t want their guns stolen to be used in the commission of a felony. We believe that a lot of people will be receptive about the need to safely store our guns."

The campaign launched with a news conference at the governor's mansion Monday. Events are planned later this week in Greenville, Greensboro and Asheville.

"Many people who have had guns for a long time don’t do the things that they need to do to keep them safe, and they need reminders of the things that can happen," Cooper said.

Billy Lassiter, deputy secretary of juvenile justice, noted that about 60% of the 331 guns stolen from vehicles in Durham were from unlocked cars.

"What we’re finding is that gangs are out there, encouraging and initiating juveniles into their gangs by asking them to go and steal guns," he said.

More than 1,800 people were shot and killed by firearms in North Carolina in 2021, according to thelatest available data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2020, firearms fatalities surpassed vehicle crashes as theleading cause of death for youth between the ages of 1 and 19. An analysis from the gun violence-prevention nonprofit Everytown shows the rate of gun deaths in North Carolina hasincreased by nearly 50% from 2012 to 2021, almost 10% higher than the national increase.

In addition to the educational campaign, the NC SAFE program has purchased 25,000 gun locks and 200 safes that will be given out at events. Lassiter says his agency is seeking additional federal funding to extend the campaign into next year. The program's website also includes a map of locations where gun owners can store their weapons if they need to get them out of their homes temporarily for safety reasons.

Cooper hasn’t received support from Republican legislators for his other gun violence prevention proposals, including red-flag laws to remove guns from people who are deemed a threat to themselves or others. A new law that passed despite the governor’s veto this year paired a similar gun storage program with the repeal of handgun purchase permits.

A bill on the state House’s agenda later this week would create new tax breaks for people who buy gun locks and safes. That bill, which has bipartisan co-sponsors, is set for a Wednesday hearing in the House Finance Committee. It would also exempt gun safety equipment from sales taxes.

WUNC's Laura Pellicer contributed to this report.

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.