NC Capitol

NC Capitol

NC House votes to end state's pistol permit system

Posted May 5, 2021 8:20 p.m. EDT
Updated May 6, 2021 6:18 p.m. EDT

— The North Carolina House voted Wednesday to scrap the state's century-old pistol permitting system, which requires local sheriffs to sign off on handgun purchases.

The move drew condemnation from gun control groups, though the North Carolina Sheriffs' Association says the system is outdated and redundant to gun-store background checks.

The bill moved forward on a 69-48 vote, largely party-line but with two Democrats voting yes and one Republican voting no. The measure moves now to the state Senate for more debate, and if it passes there, it could be vetoed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.

Right now, anyone who wants to buy a handgun is supposed to have a concealed carry permit or a pistol purchase permit, both issued by their county sheriff. Both come with a background check and require the sheriff's consent.

Purchase permits can be issued five at a time and are good for five years, but with a increase in demand for handguns, some sheriff's offices are backlogged. Rep. Jay Adams, R-Catawba, who sponsored the bill to do away with the system, said Mecklenburg County is still working through requests from November.

House Bill 398 would scrap the permit system, relying instead on national background checks at gun stores, much as is done when someone purchases a rifle. After years of defending the permitting system, which Republican lawmakers have pressed to end before, the Sheriffs' Association recently backed the change, calling the system duplicative.

That decision wasn't unanimous, though, among the state's 100 sheriffs. Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker, for example, came out against it.

“We have made significant improvements in updating the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, and it simply no longer makes sense to have our sheriffs tasked with approving and issuing individual pistol purchase permits," Adams said in a statement after the vote. "It is duplicative, costly and an unnecessary burden on law enforcement and law-abiding gun owners."

Most Democrats, along with gun-control groups, said the system has kept guns out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them and that local sheriffs should still have a say over who gets a handgun.

"It has saved lives," Rep. Marcia Morey, D-Durham and a former chief district court judge, said during Wednesday night's debate.

Some argue the change will open a loophole on gun purchases. Background checks are required at licensed gun stores but not for person-to-person sales. Buyers are required to have a concealed carry license or purchase permit to buy from an individual now, though anecdotal evidence offered in committee discussion of the bill indicated not everyone knows that and it's not always enforced.

"North Carolina’s law has kept closed this loophole on handguns bought through private sellers in our state, saving countless lives," North Carolinians Against Gun Violence said in a statement after Wednesday's vote.

The House also passed a second bill Wednesday that would tweak the pistol permit system if it ultimately survives the legislative effort to end it. House Bill 483 would also fill a North Carolina gap in the national background check system by creating a new crime: misdemeanor domestic violence.

This would be one of the most serious misdemeanors on the books in North Carolina, chargeable when someone uses or attempts to use physical force, or threatens use of a deadly weapon, against someone they’re in a relationship with, living with or share a child with.

People who commit that offense now are often charged with assault on a female instead, but adding a new potential charge will help make sure people who shouldn’t be able to buy a gun will pop on the national background check that gun stores are required to run, bill supporters said.

The loophole needs to be filled because, if the pistol permit system goes away, local sheriffs won’t run their own checks to determine whether someone should get a pistol permit. That will be done at the gun store by checking the national database.

House Bill 483 also tweaks the pistol permit process by doing away with a requirement that an applicant deliver a notarized permission to their local sheriff’s office consenting to a search of mental health records before the permit is issued.

That permission would be added to the rest of the permit application, which some counties allow to be filed out online.

The measure passed the House unanimously.

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