House OKs wider gun freedoms

lbonner@newsobserver.com May 6, 2013 

— Guns would be allowed in restaurants and bars, on walking trails, and on college campuses under a bill that received tentative House approval Monday night with a 76-38 vote.

The bill also increases some penalties for crimes committed with firearms.

Republicans used procedural maneuvers to shelve without debate amendments proposed by Democrats to remove the section about allowing guns on campuses, to require background checks at gun shows, to require trigger locks, to limit high-capacity magazines, and to increase penalties for drinking while carrying a handgun.

The bill expands the public places where people who have permits to carry concealed weapons can bring their handguns. Bars, restaurants, and other establishments would be able to prohibit guns by posting signs, and it would still be illegal to drink alcohol while armed. A bill allowing handguns in restaurants passed the House last year but stalled in the Senate.

There are more than 300,000 concealed-carry permits in the state.

“We’re allowing law-abiding, honest citizens to have the right to carry concealed weapons for their own protection,” said House Majority Leader Edgar Starnes of Hickory. “We live in a time when people feel like they need a gun for their own protection.”

Democrats argued that allowing guns in restaurants and bars would increase accidental shootings.

“Use your common sense,” said Rep. Darren Jackson, a Knightdale Democrat. “Do you want the person next to you drinking and handling a firearm?”

He named three examples of where guns fired accidentally this year, two in restaurants in Kansas and Colorado, and one at a Raleigh gun show where three people were injured.

And some legislators said it would be unwise to allow weapons on campuses when locked in vehicles when UNC System President Tom Ross, chancellors and police chiefs at university campuses, some community college administrators, and independent colleges oppose it.

“It doesn’t make sense to have guns on a college campus,” said Rep. Verla Insko, a Chapel Hill Democrat.

“Why are you giving people something they emphatically don’t want and will subject them to acts of violence in places where they already feel safe?” asked Rep. Deborah Ross, a Raleigh Democrat. “This is not something that makes this state a better place. It’s something that puts us on Stephen Colbert.”

While Democrats complained about loosening gun laws, Rep. Ruth Samuelson, a Charlotte Republican, reminded them that the N.C. Sheriffs Association supports the bill.

Republicans said students traveling to college campuses at night should have the right to have their weapons in their cars.

“What we’re saying here is not that a person can walk onto the campus of one of our universities and strap on his six-shooter and make his way through campus as a big man,” said Joseph Faircloth, a High Point Republican.

The bill refines a 2-year-old law that allows concealed guns in public parks, but allows municipalities to adopt ordinances prohibiting concealed handguns at “recreational facilities” such as playgrounds, athletic fields and swimming pools. It limits the recreational areas covered by local ordinances to exclude biking and walking paths, and open fields.

A final House vote is expected Tuesday. The bill then moves to the Senate.

Bonner: 919-829-4821

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