Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolinians would no longer have to get a pistol purchase permit from their sheriff before buying a handgun under a omnibus firearms measures that cleared the Senate Judiciary I Committee Tuesday morning.
House Bill 937 was already an omnibus gun measure when it cleared the House. In general, it strengthens penalties for those who commit crimes using a gun. It also expands where those who have concealed handgun permits may take their guns, including bars and restaurants that serve alcohol. Currently, firearms are not allowed in such establishments.
The Senate has rewritten the bill. It added penalties for concealed handgun permit holders who violate the rules associated with the permits, including carrying a handgun after having consumed alcohol.
But the biggest changes in the Senate version of the bill expand where concealed handgun permits holders can bring their guns and loosen restrictions on gun sales.
- Pistol purchase permits would be eliminated. Currently, in order to buy a handgun, whether from a licensed dealer or a private individual, North Carolinians are supposed to obtain a pistol purchase permit from their sheriff (or hold a concealed handgun permit). In order to get that permit, residents undergo a background check.
Under the Senate version of the bill, you would either need a concealed handgun permit or have to submit to a criminal background check if you buy a handgun from a licensed dealer. However, private sales of handguns, as often occur at gun shows, would no longer require a pistol purchase permit, and there would be no background check requirement. Those are the same rules that apply to rifles and shotguns.
- Park carried clarified. A provision of current law dealing with concealed handgun permit holders in parks has been interpreted different ways by different governments. Under the new version of the bill, that section is clarified to say permit holders may carry on trails and other passive recreation areas, as well as on playgrounds. Cities may ban handguns from athletic events.
- Educational property. An earlier version of the bill would have allowed permit holders to lock their guns in their cars on college and university campuses, something that is forbidden now. The new version of the bill extends the rights of concealed handgun permit holders to lock their cars on all educational properties, including colleges and public school campuses. Private schools may opt out of this provision but would have to post their property.
- Records closed. The new version of the bill adds in a provision that would close the records of those with concealed handgun permits from public view. Currently, that information is a public record.
- Parades and funerals: Current law prohibits carrying firearms at parades and funeral processions. The Senate bill would lift that prohibition for concealed handgun permit holders.
- Public officials: Judges, registers of deeds, clerks of court and magistrates who hold concealed handgun permits would be able to bring their firearms into a courthouse. Currently, that privilege only extends to district attorneys.
- Hunting: The new version of the Senate bill would allow hunting with noise suppressors.
"What we are here about today is to enhance our Second Amendment rights," said Sen. Buck Newton, R-Wilson, the Senate sponsor of the measure.
He got support from groups such as Grass Roots North Carolina and the N.C. Pistol and Rifle Association.
Attorney General Roy Cooper cautioned against scrapping the pistol permit.
“Eliminating permit background checks means more criminals, domestic abusers and the dangerous mentally ill can legally buy handguns. Instead, we should be looking for ways to keep guns from them,” Cooper said in a statement.
Police chiefs from University of North Carolina system campuses also oppose the bill.
"Allowing possession of firearms can only make campuses less safe," said UNC-Greensboro Police Chief Jamie Herring. He said that, right now, a call about a gun on campus is clearly a sign that the law is being broken and elicits a strong response. Making guns on campus legal, he said, confuses the situation.
Paul Valone, the head of Grass Roots North Carolina, pointed to recent rape cases at UNC-Chapel Hill as evidence that campus police can't provide 100 percent security.
The provision allowing concealed weapons on playgrounds scares some parents.
"I don't think I would have an issue with it so much, but I think that would make it easier for people who are not legal, because they'll feel as comfortable as the person who has the permit to carry," Scott Allen said as he watched his 4-year-old son play at a Fayetteville park.
"I prefer it not be around my children, but if it's going to be around my children, I don't want it to be concealed," Allen said. "I want to know who's carrying it, and who has it."
A spokesman for the North Carolina Sheriffs' Association said during the committee hearing that his group backed he changes in the bill that strengthened background checks for those with certain mental issues and that increased penalties for gun crimes. However, a spokesman later clarified the association was worried about the provision doing away with the pistol purchase permit.
"The association is opposed to that provision," said Eddie Caldwell, executive vice president of the group, adding that he would be lobbying to remove the provision. The background checks conducted by gun sellers, he says, does not have access to the same breadth and quality of information sheriffs do. For example, a local sheriff will know if someone has been perennially troubled but for some reason not committed and infraction bad enough for arrest.
Caldwell acknowledged that there's an argument to be made that the same rules ought to apply to all guns. However, he said that it would be hard for someone to conceal a rifle or shotgun.
"It's very easy to conceal a handgun," he said.
Mike Lecka said he and other concealed permit holders are responsible people.
"It's not just some – a piece of paper that you pick up," Lecka said. "You have to go to eight hours, nine hours of class."
Ted Harris teaches one of those classes at Jim's Guns in Fayetteville. He said police are already stretched thin, so allowing people to carry their concealed guns in more places makes sense.
"A city the size of Fayetteville, especially now that we've expanded to the Hoke County line, it's numerically impossible for them to be every single place you need them to be when you need them to be there," Harris said.
Only one person, Gail Neely, executive director of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence, spoke in absolute opposition to the bill during the committee hearing.
"This is ridiculous," Neely said. "You have nothing to support this bill. There is no credible evidence to show that this bill will make us safer."
The measure passed committee on a voice vote. It will next be heard on the Senate floor and would then return to the House for a concurrence vote.