Lawmakers trade fire during gun bill debate

Concerns over a proposal to allow concealed weapons at schools that are used for religious services prompted a heated exchange Wednesday between two House members.

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Matthew Burns
RALEIGH, N.C. — Concerns over a proposal to allow concealed weapons at schools that are used for religious services prompted a heated exchange Wednesday between two House members.

Guns are prohibited on school grounds unless they are secured in a locked vehicle, but House Bill 174 aims to carve out an exception for "educational property [that] is the location of both a school and a building that is a place of religious worship."

Sponsor Rep. Rena Turner, R-Iredell, said the measure would let concealed carry permit holders take their guns with them to religious services if it was "outside the operating hours of the school" and a representative of the educational property gave them prior authorization.

Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Orange, asked that the language be clarified that it targets religious schools and not public schools that rent space to churches for weekend services.

When Rep. Ted Davis, R-New Hanover, chairman of the House Judiciary I Committee, said that could be hashed out with Turner before the bill is debated on the House floor, Rep. Grier Martin, D-Wake, questioned why the bill couldn't be kept in committee for another week to hammer everything out.

"It's our job, it's staff's job, to get this right before that," Martin said.

"I understand, sir, but we're running out of time. I've been extremely patient for all this discussion going on, but time is drawing nigh," Davis responded.

"There is no pressing urgency for the state of North Carolina that this bill gets passed. We need to do the job we are paid by the taxpayers to do and spend time on this bill," Martin said.

"Stand at ease, Rep. Martin, you're getting out of order," Davis interrupted, turning to another committee member.

"Parliamentary inquiry, Mr. Chair, which has priority over everything else," Martin said.

"No, sir," Davis replied. "Please be quiet."

"Please do your job, Mr. Chairman," Martin shot back.

"I'll have you expelled if you keep on, Martin. I've been bending over backwards on this. We are going to take a vote on this," Davis said. "You've been told that the representative [Turner] will work with you, if this goes forward, between now and when it reaches the floor."

"Do your job," Martin said, slamming his laptop shut. "Do your job."

"You can leave if you like, sir," Davis said.

Earlier in the debate, Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, questioned what constituted "operating hours" for schools, noting many have extracurriculars or instructional activities during evenings.

That prompted Turner to amend her proposal to define operating hours as "any time when the premises are being used for educational, instructional or school-sponsored activities." But her amendment also dropped the requirement for prior authorization to allow concealed weapons by permit holders.

Jackson and Meyer criticized that change, saying that could prompt public schools to terminate leases with churches since school officials wouldn't have any say on guns being brought onto their property when the churches were using it.

Rep. Dean Arp, R-Union, said the written authorization is just more paperwork for concealed carry permit holders to keep on hand. He added that schools that want to keep guns out altogether merely need to post signs to that effect.

"The universal answer is, if you don't want it on your property, just post it," Arp said.

The bill cleared the committee on a voice vote and now heads to the House floor.

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