Raleigh, N.C. — Legislation allowing concealed weapons on college campuses, state property, greenways and bike trails, at sporting events and in businesses that serve alcohol received final approval from the state House Tuesday.
House Bill 937 heads to the Senate after a 78-42 vote that left a bitter taste in the mouths of Democratic opponents who felt the Republican majority squelched debate on the proposal.
Proponents of the measure say it protects and expands the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens while increasing punishment for those who use guns in the commission of crimes. It also requires more rapid reporting of mental health adjudications to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, in accordance with federal mandates.
"This puts some doubt in the minds of would-be criminals that they might meet some resistance," said Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford.
Democrats offered a series of amendments to the bill, but they were repeatedly cut off by a parliamentary maneuver that prevented debate. Some of the proposed amendments were tabled even before the sponsor had a chance to outline it for House members.
"We always try to set a good example, especially for the pages who work here, but what we're seeing here and what they're witnessing is not the way true debate happens," said Rep. Susan Fisher, D-Buncombe.
"We're simply following our rules," responded Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, the powerful chairman of the House Rules Committee. He pushed to table the seven amendments offered, including one put forth by Rep. Dennis Riddell, R-Alamance.
Rep. Marvin Lucas, D-Cumberland, a longtime National Rifle Association member, said he supports gun rights, but he was disheartened that any effort to improve the bill was being curtailed.
"We all want this state to be safe," Lucas said. "Whenever we cut off wholesome debate to make a bill more palatable, I'm very gravely concerned."
Under the bill, private establishments that don't want firearms on their premises can post a sign to that effect. Private colleges also can opt out and keep their campuses gun-free.
Municipalities that have previously prohibited guns in local parks and trails would no longer be allowed to do that. All public community colleges and University of North Carolina campuses also would be required to allow concealed weapon permit holders to leave their guns in locked vehicles on campus.
UNC system officials have balked at the proposal, saying more guns on campus decreases safety for students, staff and visitors.
"More people with more guns is not necessarily going to make people safer," said Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange.
Rep. Bert Jones, R-Rockingham, said school tragedies such as the massacre at Virginia Tech could have been avoided if someone else had a gun on campus who could have taken out the shooter.
Rep. Marcus Brandon, D-Guilford, said expanding gun rights simply adds to the nationwide gun culture. He said the state should take a stand and try to limit places where guns can be carried, similar to laws that cracked down on smoking in recent decades that helped erode a smoking culture.
Rep. Harry Warren, R-Rowan, noted that efforts to boost seat belt use also changed the culture of vehicle occupants, but "no one ever tried to beat me to death with a seat belt."
Rep. Jeff Collins, R-Franklin, said that people shouldn't worry about law-abiding citizens with guns.
"The ones who are carrying guns no matter what laws we pass, those are the ones we should fear," Collins said.