North Carolina’s governor urges gun safety in his keynote address

Sensible policies can be enacted to reduce gun violence across the country without threatening the rights of responsible gun owners, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said Thursday, recalling last month’s mass shooting in Raleigh, which left five people dead died.

The Democratic governor made the comments in the keynote address at a virtual national gun safety conference and said he spoke to some family members and friends of victims of the Oct. 13 shooting that began in a subdivision in east Raleigh.

“My words and prayers may have been some comfort, but they wanted more,” Cooper said at the conference organized by the non-partisan group 97Percent. “They were angry. They wanted justice. And they didn’t want it to happen again.”

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Police eventually arrested a wounded 15-year-old suspect wearing camouflage clothing who was found with a handgun and a shotgun. Raleigh Police have not yet released a motive for the shooting, which involved the suspect’s 16-year-old brother, or how the boy obtained the gun.

Cooper said too many children are accidentally shot with guns, too many people commit suicide with guns, and “too many young people are bleeding on the streets from bullets from guns that are far too easy for other kids to get their hands on.”

The governor mentioned several efforts to combat gun violence, including stricter background checks on gun buyers; a legal process already used by nearly 20 states to remove firearms from someone deemed to pose an extreme risk of harming themselves or others; and expanding secure storage awareness initiatives.

A major gun violence prevention bill passed Congress in June.

He compared efforts to reduce gun violence to the public health approach in the 1970s to reducing motor vehicle death rates through mandatory seat belt laws, safer vehicles, and other requirements.

“Cars aren’t inherently evil, but they can be tools of death for young people,” Cooper said. “The government has not taken cars away from responsible drivers, and we will not take guns away from responsible owners. We just want to make it safer.”

Cooper spoke on the same day that the state Department of Health and Human Services released a document summarizing public health approaches to reducing violence and “firearm abuse” that result in injury and death.

According to the DHHS document, there were more than 1,700 firearm-related deaths in North Carolina in 2020. And 116 North Carolina children died from a gun-related injury in 2021, making it the leading cause of child deaths from injuries.

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Cooper issued an executive order in 2019 directing the State Bureau of Investigation to improve the quality of information provided for background checks on firearm purchases. He also mentioned Thursday’s spending and training to identify students who need help with mental health. Some ideas in the DHHS plan would require legislation from the Republican-controlled General Assembly. GOP lawmakers have been cool to what was perceived as tightening gun access laws.

A bipartisan measure from the House of Representatives, approved in the chamber in 2021, would lead and fund a two-year education campaign on safe firearm storage, including ways to get a free gun lock. It did not exonerate the Senate. Cooper said Thursday his administration is pushing the campaign forward despite stalled funding.

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