Raleigh, N.C. — Democrats in the state Senate are pressing Republican leaders who control the chamber to begin work on a North Carolina law to ban individuals on the federal government's terrorist watch list from buying firearms in North Carolina.
"It makes sense this should be the first step that we should take with gun reform," said Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, D-Wake, a recently appointed member who leads the effort. Seven other senators, all Democrats, also signed onto his letter.
Chaudhuri said he was moved to make the request during a vigil for those killed at the recent gay nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla.
"I attending a moving vigil at the gay night club, Legends, in Raleigh, and as I scanned the crowd of people, all of who were mourning, I realized that, as a newly appointed state senator, I'm in a position to do something," he said Thursday.
But that something is limited. Legislative deadlines for filing most substantive legislation has passed, and while lawmakers can bring new measures to a vote by amending existing bills, typically that avenue is reserved for the chamber's leadership. Republicans outnumber Democrats 34-16 in the state Senate.
"We don't have enough detail to know what they're talking about," Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said when asked if he might be amenable to clearing a legislative path for Chaudhuri's proposal. "I hope this is a serious proposal and not just something take advantage of Orlando."
Although he did not put forward specific language, the legislation that Chaudhuri proposes would be similar to bills that Democrats in the U.S. House are trying to bring to the floor through a sit-in at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. That language would say that anyone on the federal terrorist watch list would be denied the right to buy a firearm.
It's unclear how North Carolina might gain access to that watch list, although Chaudhuri pointed to similar actions in Connecticut and New Jersey. The terrorist watch list has been criticized by civil libertarians as an overly broad dragnet that has captured law-abiding citizens along with those who have shown the potential to harm U.S. citizens. Chaudhuri insisted at a news conference Thursday morning that an administrative appeals process would allow those wrongly restricted to pursue their right to own a firearm.
Regardless of the potential technical pitfalls, it's unlikely this measure will move. Senior lawmakers are working toward closing down this year's legislative session and have been trying to limit the number of controversial measures coming to lawmakers in what they hope will be the closing days of the session.
Berger, R-Rockingham, said that lack of time by itself would not be a bar to acting. However, he said that it's unlikely lawmakers would back off efforts to close down the session for the year based on a speculative proposal. Asked about the idea of using the federal terror watch list as a ban to bar people from buying guns, Berger said he has a lot of questions.
"First of all, who is on that list? Do we know how folks get on that list? Is there some way to get off the list, and what's the procedures? I mean, we're talking about folks' constitutional rights," Berger said. "While, again, the situation in Orlando is something nobody is wanting to see replicated, the solution needs to be one that actually impacts those sorts of things and does it in a way that does not infringe on people's rights."