Unlimited handguns on single NC permit means fewer background checks

Proposal would allow unlimited handgun purchases on a pistol permit for five years, but individual federal background checks remain.

Posted Updated

Travis Fain
, WRAL statehouse reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — Legislation rolled out Wednesday would let people buy multiple handguns without getting multiple permits from their local sheriff, a change supporters billed as "streamlining" the process.

"This is not opening up more guns. It's just cutting out some bureaucracy," said Eddie Caldwell, executive vice president and general counsel of the North Carolina Sheriffs' Association.

Under current law, people who don't have concealed carry permits have to get a pistol purchase permit from their sheriff for each handgun they buy. They can get more than one permit in a day, and there's no limit how many permits they can get, but each purchase requires separate paperwork from the county sheriff.

Senate Bill 90 would change that, making a single permit good for five years, regardless of how many handguns the person buys.

"It's streamlining the bureaucracy ... without jeopardizing public safety," Caldwell told the Senate Judiciary committee on Wednesday, noting that the sheriffs' association attached a high-priority designation to its support of the bill.

Republican senators tried to eliminate the pistol purchase permit entirely four years ago, but after opposition from sheriffs, the provision was removed from legislation changing other state gun laws.

"I'd be fine with no pistol permit at all. This is a compromise," Sen. Danny Britt, R-Robeson, said Thursday about the latest bill, which he sponsors. "I understand there are concerns from some of our sheriffs, mine included, that there may be some folks that just don't need a handgun permit. Fact is, we're talking about handguns, not firearms. You can go [buy] a shotgun today at Walmart, pick it up and go home and do the same damage."

A former prosecutor, Britt said most gun crimes are committed with handguns that were illegally obtained.

"What we're doing is we're making it easier for folks who buy firearms the legal way, who are not as likely to commit crimes with those firearms," he said.

Moms Demand Action, a group that works against gun violence, is against the bill, and a representative called it "a step in the wrong direction" on Wednesday.

Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, agrees, calling the proposal "an intrinsically bad idea."

"I don't know what benefit is derived," McKissick said during a Senate committee hearing Wednesday. "If anything, we already have enough handguns out there."

The pistol purchase permit helps sheriffs keep handguns out of the wrong hands and alerts them if some people start buying a lot of guns, McKissick said Thursday.

"They can flag it. They can monitor it. They will know who they are," he said.

With mass shootings becoming more frequent, he said, requiring a permit for each handgun purchase makes people less likely to build up a personal arsenal.

"If they have to go in – they have to go through the hassle, they have to go through the process – it will restrict the number of handguns they would purchase," he said. "But to immediately just take off the cap and say you can go in and buy guns every day of the year without limitation on quantity, I don't think that's good public policy."

The committee doesn't plan to vote on the bill until next Tuesday to give more people time to weigh in on it.

This bill once dealt with concealed carry rights in places of worship that are also schools, allowing people with concealed carry licenses to have guns in the buildings outside of school hours and school activities. That language was stripped out of the bill to make way for the pistol permit change.

Correction: This post initially said a federal background check would be performed at purchase even if the buyer has a pistol permit, which is how the bill sponsor and Senate staff described the process Wednesday. North Carolina law does not require that and would not require that under this bill. The background check is done when the permit is issued. A licensed dealer might perform another check at purchase but would not be required to. The bill requires sheriffs to revoke permits, though, if a permitee is found guilty of a crime that would have disqualified him or her from getting that permit. There is a program that can automatically check permitee lists against state databases for disqualifying convictions, according to Lauren Earnhardt, associate general counsel for the N.C. Sheriffs’ Association.


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