LUMBERTON — It is party-line split in opinion among state lawmakers who represent Robeson County in the wake of Gov. Roy Cooper’s recent call for more laws and regulations regarding the purchase of certain semi-automatic rifles.
Rep. Brenden Jones, a Republican who represents District 46, is pledging to protect Second Amendment rights. The initial comment from Sen. Danny Britt Jr., a Republican who represents District 13, was a resounding, “No!” And Rep. Charles Graham, a Democrat who represents District 47, doesn’t see much chance that the GOP-controlled General Assembly will allow anything to happen in the gun-control issue.
Reps. Ken Goodman and Garland Pierce did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
“Governor Cooper wrote a blog post offering his poll-tested suggestions. He has not offered any specific or detailed language for legislation,” Jones said. “I’m going to work to guarantee we keep our kids safe without trampling on the Second Amendment rights of the people of Columbus and Robeson counties.”
Cooper went online Wednesday to offer highlights of his proposals. The governor wrote that purchases of assault-style weapons should be handled like handgun purchases, which already require background checks and permits. Cooper was apparently motivated by the Feb. 14 shooting at a Parkland, Florida, school that left 17 people dead, and has provoked student demonstrations across the country in favor of tougher gun laws.
Cooper wants to raise the age to purchase such weapons from 18 to 21. He also wants a legal process through which people can ask courts to take guns away temporarily from someone considered dangerous to others or themselves. “Bump stocks,” which allow guns to mimic fully automatic fire, also would be barred, failing action by the federal government.
The governor also called on state lawmakers to expand Medicaid coverage to hundreds of thousands of additional residents. Cooper said expansion would generate more mental health treatment dollars.
“I don’t think the Republican-controlled legislature will give the governor a chance on this issue,” Graham said of restricting the sale and ownership of assault-style rifles. “It is my hope that Congress will take up this issue soon for our citizens nationwide. My priority at this time is the safety of our children while they are in school. We have seen recently how schools are a soft target for someone to attack who has a mental illness or possibly is a terrorist.”
Graham is a member of the newly formed House Select Committee on School Safety and a member of the Justice and Public Safety Appropriations committee.
As a member of those panels, he is pushing for additional security measures with funding to ensure that children are safe in schools, Graham said. Maximizing security on a daily basis with consistency will be expensive. Graham said he will be seeking input from residents as travels throughout Robeson County.
“I will support gun control legislation that is designed specifically to protect our citizens from gun assaults,” Graham said. “I know we have responsible gun owners and hunters in our county. I support the Second Amendment and will do everything to protect our right to bear arms.”
Graham said he isn’t sure if the General Assembly will take up any legislation in the short session on gun control.
“I believe 99 percent of gun owners are law-abiding citizens who have purchased guns legally,” he said. “My concern is the 1 percent who don’t purchase legally or could be diagnosed with a mental illness and be a danger to all of us.”
Britt is steadfastly opposed to more laws and regulations restricting the ownership of firearms and sees politics in the motive behind Gov. Cooper’s proposals.
“I do not believe more regulations on the purchase or possession of firearms is the solution we need,” Britt said. “I see this as shameful politicizing of a tragedy. If the FBI had this monster on a list after the 14 calls they had received he would not have been able to purchase the firearm. However, we will never know if that would have prevented the tragedy.”
Nor does the lawmaker and lawyer from Lumberton believe more laws will help keep North Carolina residents safer or reduce violent crime.
“We need to focus more time, funding and attention on the mental health issues that cause people to commit these crimes before they are committed,” Britt said.
His beliefs and opinions are drawn from experience.
“I have personal experience that many legislators do not possess as a prosecutor and as a criminal defense attorney,” Britt said. “During my time in those two roles I have prosecuted and defended numerous individuals, very few of which committed crimes with legally purchased firearms. Further laws only prevent or delay a purchase by a law-abiding citizen.”
Like Graham, Jones and Pierce have been named to the the House Select Committee on School Safety, which meets for the first time on Tuesday. House Speaker Tim Moore announced in February he was forming the bipartisan committee. It is made up of members with backgrounds in education, law enforcement, and mental health.
The committee will look for ways to identify threats, find ways to improve school facilities, and provide training and resources.
Reach T.C. Hunter by calling 910-816-1974 or via email at [email protected]