by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
In a 5-2 ruling, the N.C. Supreme Court has determined that a man who illegally brought five guns onto a school campus could not be convicted of five separate gun offenses.
The decision stems from a 2015 incident in Macon County. Defendant Adam Conley brought the guns and two hunting knives to South Macon Elementary School. Later convicted of attempted murder, possession of a knife on educational property, cruelty to animals, and assault by pointing a gun, Conley also faced conviction on five separate counts of possessing a gun on educational property.
Writing for majority, Judge Mark Davis explains why Conley should not have been charged more than once with the specific gun charge.
… [T]he State asserts that … defendant’s possession of each additional firearm on school property represents a separate and discrete potential for violence. The State argues that the General Assembly could not have intended that a person who brings five firearms onto school property would receive no greater punishment than an individual who brings only one. We disagree. Indeed, the question of whether to impose one or multiple punishments under N.C.G.S. §14-269.2(b) in this context is a quintessential example of a policy decision reserved for a legislative body. Our recognition of the serious danger resulting from the presence of guns on school property does not allow us to usurp the General Assembly’s authority to make such policy decisions.
Justice Michael Morgan, joined by Justice Paul Newby, responds in a dissent.
I am of the opinion that the majority has ignored the presence of clear legislative intent in subsection 14-269.2(b) of the North Carolina General Statutes, misapplied the rule of lenity, and, consequently, reached the unfortunate conclusion that a person who violates the statute by carrying multiple firearms on educational property is subject to only a single conviction for such criminal activity. In my view, such a person presents a significant threat to the sanctity of educational property which is so abhorrent in its potentiality that the imposition of multiple punishments for the offense should be available as warranted.