NC lawmakers seek to make handguns easier to buy

State lawmakers are moving ahead with a bill to make it easier for people to buy handguns - with the backing of a major law enforcement group. They're seeking to repeal the state's requirement for pistol purchase permits.

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Handgun, firearm
Laura Leslie
, WRAL Capitol Bureau Chief
RALEIGH, N.C. — State lawmakers are moving ahead with a bill to make it easier for people to buy handguns – with the backing of a major law enforcement group.

House Bill 398 passed the Senate Judiciary committee Tuesday on a voice vote.

North Carolina’s pistol purchase permit law requires county sheriffs to issue permits for people to buy handguns. Twenty other states and the District of Columbia have similar laws on the books.

The law goes back more than a century to 1919, when, bill sponsor Rep. Jay Adams noted, it was a Jim Crow law that allowed sheriffs to keep guns out of the hands of Black people. However, no one is alleging at present that its use is racially disproportionate.

Any sale that involves a federally licensed dealer, either as a seller or as the shipping recipient of an online auction sale, requires a background check in the federal NICS database, which, Adams noted, now has a lot more background information than it used to. He called the pistol permit "redundant."

For decades, the North Carolina Sheriffs' Association has defended their authority to issue pistol purchase permits. But they’re now supporting the repeal of the law, as more and more sheriffs are being swamped with permit applications and even lawsuits, straining their capacity.

"The National Instant Criminal Background Check System has been evolving for over 25 years. And it's effective. It is effective and it's instantaneous," Adams, R-Catawba, told the committee. "The pistol purchase permit system is a drain on resources, and I believe it's felt to be obsolete at this point."

However, federal background checks are only required if a sale involves a licensed gun dealer.

For private and gun show sales from non-licensed dealers, no federal check is required, so the permit may be the only background check involved in that process.

Sen. Natasha Marcus, D-Mecklenburg, said that means the system is not redundant.

"At a time when we're seeing more and more gun violence, we should not be making it easier for people who should not have guns to have guns, and that's what this bill would do," Marcus said. "This bill is so, so bad."

"If you in good conscience can say, just let anybody buy any of those, we're not going to worry about who it is, and what their mental health is, and whether they beat their wives or anything else," Marcus told Adams, "you cannot tell me that that is not a risk to public health and to the safety of other people."

A spokesman for the NC Sheriffs' Association spoke in favor of the repeal, while two members of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence spoke against it, including the group's director, Becky Ceartas.

Ceartas asked the committee to consider the state of Missouri as a cautionary tale.

"Two years after Missouri's permit to purchase law was repealed, they saw the firearm homicide rate spike by 23 percent, and the firearm suicide rate go up by 16 percent," Ceartas told the senators. "We cannot afford to be like Missouri."

Sen. Chuck Edwards, R-Henderson, is a federally licensed gun dealer himself. He ascribed the opposition to "the anti-gun sentiment," and argued that getting rid of pistol permits might actually be safer, since they're valid for five years.

The bill passed the committee on what appeared to be a party line vote. It's already passed the House, and could be debated on the Senate floor later this week.


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