RALEIGH -- In the wake of gun massacres in Colorado and Connecticut, President Barack Obama has urged Congress to pass a series of gun control laws that include background checks for all gun sales and a ban on the assault-style weapons used in the shootings.
But those measures in particular may have little effect on day-to-day gun crime in North Carolina, which overwhelmingly involves handguns, many sold and traded beyond even the beefed-up system of background checks envisioned in Washington.
For the decade ending in 2011, handguns accounted for more than 81 percent of all firearm homicides in North Carolina in which the type of weapon was known, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
Rifles, which include the assault weapons that have dominated the political debate, accounted for about 7.2 percent during the same period, the agency reported. Shotguns accounted for more deaths than rifles.
Few of the 2,849 people shot and killed in the state during that decade died in the kind of massacres that make the national news. Most died one or two at a time in near-anonymity, with the kind of guns that havent surfaced as a focus in the current debate.
Assault rifles are relatively rare in gun crimes in North Carolina. Earl Woodham, a spokesman with federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Charlotte, cites the size of handguns as a big reason for their more frequent use in crimes.
Mostly, the ability to conceal the gun, he said. Thats probably the number one factor.
The term assault weapon is not universally accepted within the gun debate, but it is generally considered to be a rifle or handgun that holds more than 10 rounds, is fired semi-automatically and resembles military weapons. Gun-rights advocates contend the term assault weapon was concocted by the gun-control lobby to scare people.
Assault rifles account for only 4.3 percent of the nearly 1,000 firearms seized by Raleigh police and currently stored as evidence in criminal cases, said spokesman Jim Sughrue. Handguns accounted for 555 of the weapons, with 112 shotguns and 141 rifles. The department has 35 assault rifles in the evidence room.
Cary police have one AK 47-style weapon among the 52 firearms they are holding as evidence. Police in 2011 took the assault weapon and ammunition found by firefighters inside a burning home for safekeeping, police spokeswoman Susan Elise said.
Assault rifles make up less than 3 percent of the 729 firearms recovered by Greensboro police between Jan. 1, 2012, through February.
Durham police would not disclose information about the firearms the department has in evidence, but last year the department recovered 465 handguns, 103 shotguns and 73 rifles.
Although the handgun causes much more carnage, the overwhelming concern nationally has been focused on assault weapons because of their use in shootings with multiple victims, said Mike Bouchard, chief security officer for Security Dynamics Group, a Virginia-based security consulting firm for large corporations and the United States.
Bouchard is former assistant director of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, where he supervised 26 regional offices across the country, including North Carolina.
He noted the 10-year assault weapons ban passed by Congress in 1994 prohibited anything with more than a 10-round clip, for handguns too.