Raleigh, N.C. — The House voted 65-54 Wednesday to relax laws governing the carrying of concealed weapons and to allow lawmakers to carry guns in the legislative building.
A final vote on the measure is expected Thursday.
House Bill 746 would make it legal for anyone who legally owns a gun to carry it concealed without a permit anywhere they can carry it openly, which includes most public places. They would not need to undergo the eight-hour training course currently required for a concealed carry permit unless they wish to carry a concealed weapon into locations where that permit would still be required.
Currently, the minimum age for a concealed carry permit is 21. The law would allow permitless concealed carry by any gun owner 18 and over.
"When we prevent law-abiding citizens to have the opportunity to protect themselves and their loved ones from harm, it only enables those who have no respect for the law," said primary sponsor Rep. Chris Millis, R-Pender. "I’m on the side of saving lives, and the way you save lives is you allow law-abiding citizens to defend themselves."
House Minority Leader Darren Jackson called lowering the age for concealed carry to 18 "a recipe for disaster," a point echoed by several of the measure's opponents, including Rep. John Faircloth, R-Guilford, a longtime police chief in High Point, who said the change would remove a "major tool" – concealed weapons charges – commonly used by law enforcement against gang members.
Faircloth urged the House to add a requirement for "some kind of training" to replace the training required for a concealed carry permit. Rep. Billy Richardson, D-Cumberland, who helped write the state's concealed carry law in the 1990s, agreed: "This isn't Second Amendment protection. This is absurdity."
But co-sponsor Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven, said untrained gun owners can already carry weapons openly.
"If you’re 18 years old, you can strap a gun to your side, put it in a holster, walk around with it. That’s perfectly legal," countered Speciale. "All this does is make sure, if your coat falls over it, you’re not breaking the law."
Jackson, D-Wake, said there's no comparison.
"No 18-year-old gang member is going to strap a weapon on his hip and walk down the middle of the street to do his drug deal or her drug deal, but now we’re going to give him the ability to legally carry that weapon and stick it in that waistband," Jackson responded. "It's not about gun control. It's about gun safety. It's about common sense."
The measure would also allow lawmakers, staff, and sergeants-at-arms to carry weapons in the legislative and on the chamber floor.
Noting that tens of thousands of school children tour the complex each year, Democrats tried to run several amendments that would have restricted when and how guns could be carried in the building, but Republicans voted not to allow the amendments to be voted on.
Speciale said many other states allow lawmakers to carry weapons in the legislature: "We’re doing what we should be doing, which is making sure that your rights are protected."
Jackson pointed out that the bill would also allow guns in other state government buildings, "so disgruntled taxpayers will be able to go into the Department of Revenue with a concealed weapon," and would also require sheriffs to issue pistol permits in 90 days whether or not he or she has received the required mental health check.
"That's a big change," he said.
"It’s a good bill for freedom," Speciale responded. "It returns back to the people some of the freedoms that have been taken over the years."
The vote was mostly along party lines, with eight Republican lawmakers joining all Democrats in voting against the bill. The margin of victory, 65-54, would not be sufficient to override a veto by Gov. Roy Cooper. That could change on the final vote Thursday.
Once it passes the House, it would still have to pass the Senate.