North Carolina GOP again seeking to ease gun restrictions
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Both chambers of North Carolina’s General Assembly are once again advancing previously vetoed gun legislation in light of Republicans’ midterm election gains that landed them within one seat of a veto-proof supermajority.
A bill that advanced Tuesday through the Senate Judiciary Committee combines several measures already vetoed by the governor. Those would ease requirements to purchase handguns and allow people to carry concealed firearms in more locations, including some schools that are based in houses of worship. Standalone companion bills also advanced Tuesday through a House judiciary committee.
The House and Senate versions could head to the floor for votes later this week.
Senate Republicans have lumped in a bipartisan provision to launch and fund a two-year education campaign on the safe storage of firearms, which would also distribute free gun locks. The move will force Democratic supporters of safe storage to support all three provisions or reject the initiative.
One proposed measure, which has generated the most backlash from gun-control advocates, would do away with the permit someone must obtain from a county sheriff before purchasing a pistol. State law currently directs county sheriffs to evaluate applicants and ensure the gun will be use for lawful purposes.
Sen. Danny Britt, a Robeson County Republican and one of the bill’s primary sponsors, called it a “common sense” measure that would remove what he considers an arbitrary requirement.
Many buyers would still undergo mandatory national background checks, which bill sponsors argue are comprehensive enough to remove the additional state requirement. However, a national background check is not mandatory for private gun sales, which only require North Carolina buyers to obtain a sheriff-issued permit, or face a misdemeanor charge.
While the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association supports repealing the requirement, its current president, Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood, does not.
Eddie Caldwell, the association’s executive vice president, said many sheriffs have found that the criminal history data available locally is now about the same as what’s available through the national system.
Several Democrats, including Sens. Natasha Marcus and Mujtaba Mohammed of Mecklenburg County, raised concerns at a committee meeting Tuesday that the bill would create a loophole that could enable criminals and people with mental illnesses to obtain firearms.
Britt responded that people who plan to commit crimes are likely not acquiring the required permits anyway.
“The criminal is not going to go to the sheriff and ask for it before he goes and commits the crime,” the senator said, adding that the bill would streamline the process for law-abiding gun buyers.
The law, he said, was first used during the Jim Crow era to prevent Black people from obtaining weapons. But Marcus Bass of the North Carolina Black Alliance told a House committee that the requirement is not duplicative or racially discriminatory and is an important safeguard against gun violence and suicides.
Stormy Ingold, the mother of a young adult son with bipolar disorder, told senators that North Carolina’s pistol permit requirement is the only thing that has blocked him from purchasing a handgun in the state.
Her son passes the national background check, she said, but does not pass the more thorough mental health assessment required to obtain a permit from their local sheriff’s office.
“I thank God for that requirement,” she said after a committee meeting. “If he buys a gun and hurts himself, that’s blood on their hands.”
Another proposed measure — its own bill in the House and a component of the Senate package — would allow people with a concealed weapons permit to carry a gun openly or under clothing while they attend religious services at a location where private schools or charter schools also meet.
The proposal would not allow firearms during school hours or when any students are present. State law otherwise prohibits guns on school property.
While critics warned the proposal could endanger teachers and children, supporters such as the Rev. Ron Baity, a Winston-Salem pastor whose church is attached to a Christian school, said it would level the playing field for hundreds more North Carolina churches to protect their congregants.
“These bills are mischaracterized as being about schools,” said Sen. Jim Perry, a Lenoir County Republican and bill sponsor. “This is about a church and having the ability to enjoy equal protection.”
Hannah Schoenbaum is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.