Raleigh, N.C. — A provision in a sweeping firearms bill now pending in the state House that would eliminate North Carolina's pistol purchase permit and a related state background check on gun buyers has attracted the most attention from backers and opponents alike.
A different section of House Bill 562, however, is raising concerns inside the Legislative Building. The bill, if approved, would let state lawmakers and their staffers carry concealed weapons at the legislature – even on the floor of the House and the Senate.
The Legislative Building has its own police force, but Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven, said the building is more open than legislatures in other states – there are no metal detectors or security checks for visitors – so more protection is needed.
"Most of us want to keep this building open. It belongs to the public; we want them to be able to come and go at will," Speciale said Monday. "That doesn't mean we shouldn't be able to protect ourselves if something should happen."
"There are lots of ways you can improve that without putting a gun in everybody's back pocket," said Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Orange.
Currently, 10 to 12 armed officers patrol the two buildings in the legislative complex. Every office, chamber and meeting room has a panic button, and there's a police presence at the entrance and in the parking garage.
The chief of the General Assembly Police declined to comment on the proposal.
Meyer noted that hundreds of people visit the legislature every day, including citizens lobbying their representatives and senators and students on school field trips.
"I don't think, when they walk through the doors, they're considering who's carrying a weapon," he said. "I think we need to do our best to make sure weapons aren't even part of the equation for those people that come here expecting to see government and nothing more."
Speciale called that argument a red herring, saying that he doesn't believe lawmakers carrying concealed handguns would pose a safety risk.
"There's guns around schoolkids all the time. People are walking around that you wouldn't even believe that are carrying. It happens all day long in restaurants and this and that," he said. "It's not the law-abiding folks that have the permits that are the problem. It's the folks that don't have the permits that are going to violate the law no matter what."