RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Sensible policies can be approved to reduce gun violence across the country without threatening the rights of responsible firearm owners, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said Thursday, recalling last month’s mass shooting in Raleigh that left five people dead.
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 the victims of the Oct. 13 shootings that began in an east Raleigh subdivision.
“My words and prayers may have been of some comfort, but they wanted more,” Cooper said at the conference organized by the bipartisan group 97Percent. “They were angry. They wanted justice. And they wanted to keep it from happening again.”
Police ultimately arrested a wounded 15-year-old suspect, who was wearing camouflage clothing and found with a handgun and a shotgun. Raleigh police have yet neither disclosed a motive for the shooting, whose victims included the suspect’s 16-year-old brother, nor described how the youth obtained the weapons.
Cooper said too many children are being accidentally shot by guns, too many people are using guns to commit suicide and “too many young people lie bleeding in the streets from bullets that come from guns that are far too easy for other kids to get.”
The governor mentioned several efforts to discourage gun violence, including more robust background checks of gun purchasers; a legal process already used by nearly 20 states to remove firearms from someone believed to be an extreme risk of harming themselves or others; and the expansion of safe storage awareness initiatives.
A significant gun violence prevention law was approved by Congress in June.
He likened gun violence reduction efforts to the public health approach in the 1970s to reduce the rate of motor vehicle death through mandatory seat belt laws, safer vehicles and other requirements.
“Cars aren’t evil in and of themselves, yet they can be instruments of death for young people,” Cooper said. “The government didn’t take the cars away from responsible drivers, and we won’t take away guns from responsible owners. We just want to make it safer.”
Cooper spoke the same day the state Department of Health and Human Services released a document summarizing public health approaches to reduce violence and “firearm misuse” that leads to injury and death.
The DHHS document said there were more than 1,700 firearm-related deaths in North Carolina in 2020. And 116 North Carolina children died of a firearm-related injury in 2021, making it the leading cause of child injury death.
Cooper issued an executive order in 2019 that directed the State Bureau of Investigation to improve the quality of information provided for background checks for firearm purchases. He also mentioned Thursday spending and training to identify students in need of mental health aid. Some ideas in the DHHS plan would need legislation from the Republican-controlled General Assembly. GOP legislative leaders have been cool to anything perceived as tightening gun-access laws.
A bipartisan state House measure approved in the chamber in 2021 would direct and fund a two-year education campaign on the safe storage of firearms, including ways to receive a free gun lock. It didn’t clear the Senate. Cooper said Thursday his administration is pushing the campaign forward, despite the stalled funding.