RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper on Monday urged Republican elected officials to pass legislation preventing people on the federal government’s database of known or suspected terrorists from buying guns in North Carolina.
With the idea stifled again nationally last week in the U.S. Senate, Cooper said North Carolina should take the lead to block firearm sales in the state to people on the FBI’s “terrorist watch list.”
“Stopping terror suspects from getting weapons that could harm our state and its people makes common sense,” Cooper said in a news release. “Even if Washington won’t act, we can.”
Cooper directed his call to the GOP-led General Assembly and Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, whom Cooper wants to unseat as governor next year. The legislature isn’t supposed to reconvene until late April.
Some GOP officials or their representatives responding to Cooper oppose such restrictions and accused him of supporting more gun control. The McCrory administration suggested the attorney general was off base and that such a blanket gun denial could make it more difficult to locate broader terror activity.
Cooper’s “so-called solution … could actually compromise on-going terrorist investigations within the state of North Carolina,” Frank Perry, secretary of the Department of Public Safety and a former FBI agent, said in a release late Monday.
The U.S. Senate considered a nationwide prohibition of sales for those in the watch list last Thursday, the day after a shooting in San Bernardino, California, killed 14 people and wounded 21 others. The 54-45 vote in favor of the ban fell short of the 60 votes need to overcome procedural maneuvers to block the legislation. The FBI is now investigating the California mass shooting as an act of terrorism.
A federal Government Accountability Office study released in March found people on the list had successfully passed firearm background checks more than 90 percent of the time from 2004 to 2014, equal to more than 2,000 approvals.
In North Carolina, most prospective gun buyers must have a pistol permit issued by a person’s local sheriff or be run through the federal background check system if the weapon is purchased through a federally licensed dealer. The background check already halts purchases for people with felony convictions or serious mental illnesses.
Noelle Talley, a Cooper spokeswoman, said watch list information is accessible through the instant background check system. Such a state ban still would miss some private gun sales between individuals.
Gun rights advocates have said they don’t want terrorists to have firearms but they’re wary about innocent people being on the watch list by mistake or due to sketchy suspicions by law enforcement.
State GOP Chairman Hasan Harnett accused Cooper of “stripping our citizens of their constitutional rights and denying them due process” to score points with his like-minded supporters and of aligning himself with President Barack Obama.
Amy Auth, spokeswoman for Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said Cooper’s “gun control plan” couldn’t be taken seriously if Cooper’s previous activities were any indication. Cooper has been attorney general since 2001.
The shootings in California and Paris have brought terrorism issues to the front burner in state government. Responding to Obama’s address Sunday night, McCrory said federal homeland security officials often leave local and state officials in the dark about potential dangers.
Cooper, McCrory and legislative leaders last month all were on board in urging the federal government to delay relocations of certain refugees to North Carolina while security screenings are re-examined. Republicans focused on refugees from Syria.