President Barack Obama’s decision to test the limits of his executive powers by further tightening federal controls over gun sales may have only modest effect, but it drew the ire of Republicans and set off fresh rhetoric this week from members of both parties in North Carolina.
“His initiatives are out of line,” said Republican Rep. Robert Pittenger of North Carolina. “Legislation is passed by Congress. It’s not passed by monarch.”
Republican Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis of North Carolina expressed similar disgust, vowing to defend Americans’ Second Amendment rights to gun ownership, as did Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., who said Obama’s actions would “trample the rights of law-abiding citizens.”
In the N.C. statehouse in Raleigh, Republican state Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger of Rockingham called on state Attorney General Roy Cooper, who is a Democrat, to file a court challenge to Obama’s “radical abuse of power and unconstitutional gun grab.”
The owner of a Charlotte gun shop said Obama’s curbs had only set off a surge in sales.
Freshman Democratic Rep. Alma Adams of North Carolina noted that two police officers had suffered gunshot wounds at opposite ends of her congressional district in the past week – one in Charlotte and the other in Winston-Salem. She said she thought congressional Republicans had been “tying the president’s hands” by refusing to consider gun control legislation despite the continuation of mass shootings.
“I just don’t think he had a choice, if he was really concerned about making our communities safer,” Adams said of Obama, who broke into tears Tuesday while unveiling his latest gun-control initiatives in the presence of people who’d lost loved ones in shooting sprees.
“How dare we not do anything?” Adams asked. “Now that’s reckless, to see this problem day in and day out, week in and week out.”
Another North Carolina Democrat, Rep. David Price, who sits on a House Democratic task force responsible for guiding policies for increased controls over firearms sales, accused many of his Republican congressional colleagues of being “in the pocket” of the National Rifle Association, which has led the lobby against gun control initiatives.
Price said he had backed every universal background check and assault weapons ban bill that had come up for debate in recent years. And, every time, he and fellow Democrats have found themselves on the losing side, though some of their Democratic colleagues have lined up with the gun lobby.
I will continue to defend our constitutional rights, regardless of President Obama’s personal preferences.
Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina
In Charlotte, the owner of Northlake Firearms said measures to control the proliferation of guns had always been followed by an increase in gun and ammo sales, which meant an increase in store profits.
“I’ve heard guys say, ‘Why do you even have to place an ad, when we got the president doing that?’ ” said Timothy Ramsey, a 56-year-old retired police officer who got a license for his Primm Road shop in 2012.
He said Obama’s pushes for controls – the president also tightened regulations after 26 people, including 20 children, were shot to death in 2012 at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut – had been “the best thing for gun sales. People don’t want to hear that, but it’s true.”
Ramsey said he never had had a customer fail a federal background check. But he said that was probably not surprising, considering that people who bought guns at licensed dealers knew their histories would be reviewed.
Charlotte is home to about 70 of North Carolina’s 2,300 licensed gun sellers, the most of any Carolinas city, and the total has tripled since December 2010, data show. Gun sales in the state also appear to be booming, if a recent surge in federally licensed dealers is any indication. North Carolina licenses to sell firearms have grown by 41 percent in the past five years, a pace topped only by Florida, with a 50 percent increase.
Paul Valone, president of the gun rights group Grass Roots North Carolina, said the increase might be due to the state’s “relatively gun-friendly” environment. North Carolina has no gun registry and no rules against openly carrying firearms, and localities are barred from adopting gun laws more restrictive than the state’s, Valone said.
Other recent state laws have allowed holders of concealed carry permits to carry guns in state and city parks, at parades, in locked cars on educational property and at restaurants where alcohol is served – provided the holder does not drink alcohol.
The laws “caused just an incredible influx and explosion of concealed carry permits and people purchasing firearms,” Valone said. “And therefore . . . why not sell firearms?”
Instead of working across party lines to implement common-sense solutions supported by a majority of Americans, President Obama is once again overstepping his constitutional authority by attempting to implement laws unilaterally.
Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina
Pittenger’s views help explain the gulf between Republicans and Democrats. He said in a phone interview that Obama’s 23 executive actions after the Sandy Hook slayings had “zero impact,” and he thinks the latest White House efforts to close loopholes that allow gun sellers to avoid registering their activities and conducting background checks on buyers also will be meaningless.
A better focus, he contended, would be for Obama to confront leaders in Hollywood and the rest of the entertainment industry about reining in the culture of violence that so often dominates movies and television shows.
The “heart of the problem,” though, is in federal health privacy laws that bar sheriff’s offices from obtaining information about whether applicants to buy guns are too mentally unstable to own them, Pittenger said. He said he had sought a Democratic partner to propose legislation that would create a privacy exception for background checks and had had no takers.
Adams said opening people’s health files would create “a real problem,” but that she’d be willing to sit on a congressional task force to research the issue and search for solutions.
Anna Douglas contributed to this article.
Gavin Off, of The Charlotte Observer, reported from Charlotte, N.C.