Local Politics

Durham considers backing effort to restrict bullet sales

Posted February 2, 2009 5:56 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT

— The City Council has been wrestling with whether to throw its support behnind an effort to change state law to require background checks on people trying to buy bullets.

Such a restriction would require a change in state law, but some advocates said support from Durham could create the needed momentum to push a bill through the General Assembly.

"We don't sell guns to criminals, so why are we letting them buy the bullets?" said Rev. Melvin Whitley, a community activist who has fought gangs and crime in Durham for years.

Whitley emphasized his point Monday by going to an intersection where a 14-year-old was hit by a bullet.

"If you've never been robbed and you've never had somebody stick a gun in your face (or) you've never had a gun to go off near you, you probably won't understand this issue," he said.

Gun-owners said the so-called "bullet ownership bill" won't prevent crime.

"We need to focus on the person and not the object, because a gun never jumped up off a table and went and committed an armed burglary," said Wallace Chambers, who said he has twice had to show his gun to protect himself in threatening situations.

"Ultimately, it's my responsibility to be able to protect my house and my home," Chambers said.

City Council members were split on the proposal, with some calling it a state matter and others saying they support the concept but not necessarily Whitley's proposal.

"This is misdirected legislation," Councilman Eugene Brown said.

"I've got a very simplified approach to the bullet bill, (but) it is not the proposal that has been presented," Mayor Bill Bell said. "My sense is that, if you have permission to buy firearms, you ought to be able to buy bullets. If you don't have permission to buy firearms, then you shouldn't be able to purchase bullets."

Bills have been introduced in 18 states to require laser-engraving bullets with a serial number at the factory to make them traceable. None has passed.

Under North Carolina law, anyone who fills out the required paperwork, passes a criminal background check and provides two notarized references can purchase a handgun in North Carolina. Rifle and shotgun purchases don't require the references. There is no state restriction on ammunition sales.

"Any mechanism that will reduce the number of gun crimes, we need to explore," Councilman Howard Clement said.

Councilman Farad Ali said that if Durham backs the "bullet ownership bill," city officials need to recruit other counties and cities to support it as well in the General Assembly.