Buncombe DA Todd Williams Proposes Stricter Firearm Laws
February 27, 2018 Asheville Citizen-Times
ASHEVILLE – As the district attorney for Buncombe County, Todd Williams saw two opportunities to possibly make a difference in reforming gun laws in North Carolina: asking state legislators to increase penalties for unauthorized possession of firearms and threats of mass violence on school property.
Williams said he has been watching as gun safety conversations have populated his social media feed over the past two weeks. There have been no shortages of local discussions on gun violence in the schools, with superintendents across Western North Carolina asking for more safety measures. After reading countless comments from concerned students and teachers lobbying lawmakers for change, Williams decided he, too, needed to get involved.
"Nothing worse can happen at a school right now than someone coming onto a campus with a firearm in terms of alarming students and parents," Williams said.
After reviewing the statutes on North Carolina gun laws, Williams saw areas that could be revised to further protect the community, he said.
His proposals, which are supported by Sen. Terry Van Duyn and Rep. Susan Fisher, suggest that the penalty for possessing a firearm on school property be elevated from a class I felony to a class D, making it equivalent to robbery with a dangerous weapon.
"Class D felony is like sticking a pistol in someone's face," Williams said. "This gives us so many more tools to ensure safety of schools and there are just so many examples of why we need it at this point."
Raising the crime to a class D felony would require an active sentence for a first time offender, meaning they would go to prison.
Williams said it would also give prosecutors the authority to petition for a higher bond after an arrest in the interest of public safety.
"These conversations cannot go away this time, and we have the opportunity to not just move past it but fix it," Williams said.
His second proposal is that the statutes should require the immediate surrender of all firearms in the possession of the offender.
"To ensure firearm seizure, both of the statutes should authorize a protective sweep of the offenders' homes," Williams said.
These proposals come at a time when legislators across the nation are looking at wide-ranging options to address gun violence - such as arming teachers, which Williams said is being discussed at the state Capitol along with what he hopes will be his new proposals.
"The person who is threatening the use of firearms should no longer be able to access them," Williams said. "A school goes on lockdown when someone brings or threatens to bring a firearm to school and then there is no manner or means to ensure that they are not in possession of other weapons in the wake of a charge."
Van Duyn said she has been in support of gun reform for years, but she said the idea of arming teachers is "so wrong" and thinks the proposals created by Williams could buff up school safety statewide.
"What Todd is proposing is part of something we are also working on at a more comprehensive approach that would include things like increasing the use of background checks and raising the gun purchasing age to 21," she said.
Van Duyn said she also supports a ban on assault weapons and hopes that despite how long legislators have been in talks about reforming gun laws, this time change will happen.
"We've been talking about this for a while and I have consistently voted against expanding access to guns, so this isn’t new for me," Van Duyn said. "But I think what's different this time is that we are feeling a little hopeful."
She said watching Republicans in Florida negotiating on gun revisions has given her a renewed optimism.
"Now maybe we can actually do this," Van Duyn said. "And that’s because of those high school students in Florida who are speaking up so strongly and passionately."
Students across WNC are planning to participate in a March 24 event called March for our Lives, a rally organized by students nationwide. Other events and walkouts will take place next month with the goal of keeping gun reform in the spotlight.