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NC Gov. Cooper calls for stronger gun laws; Sen. Tillis warns against curbing gun rights

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper speaks during a July 28, 2020, press conference in Raleigh.
N.C. Department of Public Safety
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper is seen during a news briefing in 2020.

Updated 6 p.m.

In the hours after a deadly massacre that left 19 children and two teachers dead inside a Texas elementary school Tuesday, North Carolina's top elected leaders were again faced with the question of what could have been done to prevent the attack, and what steps could still be taken to prevent future mass killings.

In avideo posted to Twitter, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, lamented that it was far from the first time the nation had been plunged into grief following a mass shooting.

"We've seen it too many times. Mass shootings. Easy-to-get military assault weapons. Teachers turning themselves into human shields. Children murdered," Cooper said. "What on earth is more important than protecting our children? What on earth is more important than stopping our schools, houses of worship, and even grocery stores from turning into slaughter fields?"

Previous actions taken by Cooper on gun safety include a2019 executive order that strengthened firearm purchase background checks in the state and directed the State Bureau of Investigation to train law enforcement agencies to connect potentially-dangerous individuals with community support services.

But in his video statement, Cooper said more needed to be done by lawmakers in Congress and the North Carolina General Assembly.

He called on lawmakers in the U.S. Senate to pass H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act that the House approved more than a year ago. He also said Congress should approve legislation banning assault weapons, and called on North Carolina lawmakers to pass red-flag laws allowing judges to take guns away from violent criminals and people who are severely mentally ill.

Cooper also urged lawmakers to approve Medicaid expansion in North Carolina, which could provide more money to treat people with mental illnesses in the state.

"We need Republicans in North Carolina and across the country to come to the table and pass these bills, or we need to choose new leaders. We cannot forget this tragedy when it fades from the news. We cannot normalize the mass murder of children. We cannot wait any longer," Cooper said.

Sen. Tillis warns against curbing gun rights

As of Wednesday evening, North Carolina U.S Sen. Thom Tillis had not issued a public statement, but in statements to CNN, Tillis warned against curbing gun rights, and said the country must search for other ways to anticipate and prevent future mass shootings.

"It's horrible. And you know what we need to avoid is the reflexive reaction we have to say this could all be solved by not having guns in anyone's hands. We can always talk about reasonable measures, but we also have to talk about better situational awareness. I'm almost certain that in the coming days or weeks, we're going to find out that there were signs that this person was at risk," Tillis told CNN.

When asked if there was a component of guns that could be part of the solution for mass shootings, Tillis, a Republican, said, "no," the network reported.

"What people immediately want to jump to are red flag laws," Tillis said. "Virtually every one that I've seen has been one that sweep up law-abiding gun owners into what I consider to be an overreach. So the question is can we actually get to policy that could make a difference, but not deny people their Second Amendment rights and give them due process? That's what we talk about every time something like this comes up and that hopefully will be the discussion if we have one versus what could potentially be the plot of people going into their political corners, which I've seen every time something tragic like this has happened in the seven and a half years I've been here."

Tillis did not respond to requests for comment from WFAE. North Carolina's senior U.S. senator, Republican Rep. Richard Burr, also did not respond to requests for comment.

Both Tillis and Burr are among the senate's top beneficiaries of spending by the National Rifle Association, according to the nonprofit government transparency group Open Secrets. The group finds the NRA had spent nearly $7 million dollars in direct and indirect support for Burr, and more than $5.6 million in support for Tillis since each has taken office.

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Nick de la Canal is the host of Weekend Edition on Saturday/Sunday mornings, and a reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal