RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced Tuesday his administration is starting an office aimed at helping local law enforcement and public health officials reduce violence in their communities through training, model programs and help in getting funding from the federal government and elsewhere.
During the Executive Mansion event, which was attended by gun-violence prevention advocates, lawmakers and others, Cooper signed an executive order creating the Office of Violence Prevention within the Department of Public Safety.
The new office will coordinate efforts across state and local departments to reverse what many call disturbing trends of violence and firearm misuse. Cooper said gunfire has surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of injury deaths among children, while in 2021 children in North Carolina were 51% more likely to die from gun violence than children nationwide.
“Too many families and communities are enduring the tragic injuries and deaths from homicide, from carelessness, from suicide,” Cooper said at the event. “And whether a gun is used or not, violence is a tragedy that has to be stopped. It requires an all-hands-on-deck approach.”
One approach could follow activities conducted by the One Step Further Gate City Coalition community violence prevention program in Greensboro. The program includes volunteers who go into high-crime areas and work to diffuse conflicts by speaking with crime victims and those who wish to do others harm.
It has resulted in a 30% reduction in aggravated assaults in the program’s target areas since 2019, said program manager Ingram Haizlip, herself a shooting victim in 2011.
“Violence prevention programs include community members who understand our community, look like our community, talk like our community, empathize with our community and love our community one block at a time,” Haizlip said.
An executive director will be hired for the office soon, Cooper said. The Department of Public Safety is already making plans for a statewide public awareness campaign launching in June about the safe storage of firearms.
Cooper, a Democrat, supports additional gun restrictions in state law, but the Republican-controlled legislature has largely ignored such proposals from him and his allies. The new office doesn’t need legislation to be created.
“Unfortunately, the General Assembly has not yet wanted to take these steps,” the governor said. ”So we must tackle these challenges with the tools that we have.”
Republican lawmakers this year are again advancing measures that would ease gun rules.
Later Tuesday, a House judiciary committee advanced a package of proposals approved by the Senate that would eliminate the pistol purchase permit requirement from a local sheriff to buy a handgun. It also includes a measure already passed by the House as a standalone bill that would allow people with concealed weapons permits to carry openly or under clothing while attending religious services at locations where private or charter schools also meet.
Cooper successfully vetoed similar bills in 2021. But Republican seat gains in November increased the possibility that similar vetoes this year could be overridden.
Associated Press/Report for America writer Hannah Schoenbaum contributed to this report.