RALEIGH — A group of Republican legislators wasted no time in keeping the national debate over gun control stoked in North Carolina on Wednesday, introducing a firearms bill on the first working day of the session.
House Bill 17 was filed as the national debate over guns is taking place with renewed vigor following the mass school shooting in Connecticut last month. Congress is grappling over President Obamas proposals, and on Wednesday former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, critically wounded by a gunman in 2011, urged U.S. senators to take bold action to stop the violence.
The North Carolina legislation does not advocate for gun control but resurrects a failed effort from last year that would have allowed concealed handguns in restaurants and in bars that serve enough food to be considered eating establishments. This years bill would also make records of concealed handgun permit-holders no longer public.
Folks have a right to protect themselves and their families, said one of the bills primary sponsors, Rep. Justin Burr, a Republican from Albemarle, following the brief House session.
The bill would allow people who have permits to carry concealed weapons to bring their handguns into restaurants, cafeterias, grills, snack bars and the like. That includes bars whose receipts from food and non-alcoholic drinks are no less than 30 percent of their gross sales including alcohol.
Customers with guns wouldnt be able to drink alcohol while there, under the bill. Establishments could still prohibit guns from their premises by posting signs.
People with concealed-carry permits should be able to come armed, Burr said, if theyre not drinking alcohol; if theyre not at the bar but just sitting in an Applebees with their family having dinner.
Last year, the restaurant gun bill passed the House but stalled in the Senate. On Tuesday, House Speaker Thom Tillis told reporters he didnt anticipate any legislation expanding concealed-carry permits, but he added that bills would be evaluated on their own merits.
There are more than 300,000 concealed-carry permits in North Carolina.
Art Kamm of Cary, a former health care industry executive who has become a gun-control advocate, disagrees that more guns make public places safer. He says there is mounting statistical evidence of homicides by concealed weapon permit-holders in circumstances other than self-defense. Sometimes people drop their guns, which accidentally discharge, he noted.
The other side of the coin is how do people defend themselves against those with concealed-carry permits that kill people, including in restaurants and bars? Kamm said.
He also said the bill might not protect restaurant owners from liability. Rather than requiring restaurant owners to post no-firearms signs, he said, it would be better to allow establishments to opt in if they want guns on their premises.
Opt-out signs inject the owner into the middle of a hot-button political-cultural issue, he said. They wind up on lists protesting their business.
The new addition to the bill would make the statewide database of concealed weapon permit-holders no longer a public record. Only law enforcement authorities would have access to the information.
Bills clamping down on that information have been filed legislatures in Mississippi, Arkansas and Montana this month - part of a trend that accelerated following a New York newspapers publication of an interactive database listing permit-holders names and addresses in December.
Rep. Mike Hager, a Republican from Rutherfordton who is a co-sponsor of the bill, said public disclosure of the information makes homeowners unsafe.
It gives the folks who want to do us harm, or benefit from our possessions, the ability to go find out, Well, I know there are some guns I can steal in this house. Or, on the flip side, it lets those folks know the houses that arent protected, which makes them even more of a target, I think, Hager said.
Burr said he is willing to amend the bill to keep only some of the database confidential.
Kamm said the movement to restrict information about who has concealed handgun permits makes it more difficult to analyze trends.
Besides Burr and Hager, Rep. Mark Hollo of Taylorsville and Rep. John Bell of Goldsboro are the primary sponsors of the bill. By the end of the day, the bill had attracted six more Republican legislators who signed on as co-sponsors, the maximum number allowed.
A second gun bill was also filed Wednesday. SB17, sponsored by Sen. Stan Bingham, a Republican from Denton, would make concealed-carry permits issued in another state to people who dont live in that state invalid in North Carolina.
Staff writer John Frank contributed