RALEIGH — A major gun-rights bill took an unexpected turn Tuesday with a proposal to eliminate the law that requires people receive a permit from their county sheriff before they can buy a handgun.
The bill, approved in a Senate Judiciary committee, still requires a permit to carry concealed handguns but expands the places that those weapons can be taken: all educational property, not just public colleges and universities as an earlier version proposed; private schools, unless they prohibit weapons; parades and funeral processions, unless theyre expressly prohibited. Cities and counties would not be allowed to ban firearms on greenways but could continue to do so on athletic fields.
Still in the omnibus House Bill 937, an earlier version of which was approved by the House, is a provision that would allow concealed carry permit-holders to bring handguns into bars and other places that serve alcohol, unless the owners prohibit it.
Were here to enhance our Second Amendment rights, which have been too long restricted by the previous majority, said Sen. Buck Newton, a Republican who represents parts of Johnston, Wilson and Nash counties. These are, by definition, law-abiding citizens, referring to those with permits to carry concealed weapons.
Gail Neely of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence told the Senate judiciary committee that fewer than 3 percent of people in the state have concealed-carry permits and that 90 percent of the state favors tougher restrictions.
This is ridiculous, Neely said. There is no credible evidence this bill will make us safer in North Carolina.
The revised H.B. 937 signals Senate Republicans are willing to loosen gun restrictions even in light of recent national tragedies, especially on school campuses. North Carolina would join more than 30 states that dont require a permit to purchase a gun; a handful of states also allow concealed carry without a permit.
Last session, gun-rights advocates criticized Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger for holding up firearms legislation that came out of the House. This bill goes further than the previous attempts to loosen gun controls, with its repeal of the pistol permits and allowing guns in bars and on school property. With the blessings of the Senate leadership, H.B. 937 sailed through the judiciary committee and now has a strong chance of approval in the legislature; it next goes to the full Senate.
But reaction to the bill, which was made public just before the committee met, split many supporters and opponents along traditional lines, while others had mixed reactions.
Attorney General Roy Cooper issued a statement saying that eliminating the permit requirements means more criminals, domestic abusers and the dangerous mentally ill can legally buy handguns. Instead we should be looking for ways to keep guns from them.
But Gregg Stahl, a lobbyist with the N.C. Sheriffs Association, told the committee the bill, on balance was one sheriffs could support. But he said there were concerns about doing away with pistol permits.
No one from the N.C. Association of Chiefs of Police was available for comment, but in laying out its legislative priorities this year, the group said it opposed legislation which could endanger the public or law enforcement officers by allowing uncontrolled possession of firearms or other weapons on school property.
Under the current law, county sheriffs issue or deny applications for pistol permits. Gun-rights advocates say the sheriffs are inconsistent in how they handle those applications, and they think some sheriffs make it unnecessarily difficult.
Chief Jamie Herring of the UNC Greensboro police read a statement on behalf of the chiefs from the 17 UNC campuses opposing the provision to allow guns on campuses. More than a dozen uniformed campus police chiefs stood as Herring read the groups opposition to the provision allowing guns on campuses. The bill would allow those with concealed handgun permits to keep firearms locked in their vehicles parked on campus.
Herring said that would undermine the common practice of people reporting to police when they see a weapon on campus. He said university campuses are among the safest places, and a law like this would make them less safe. Another UNC official expressed concern about safety, because of the incidence of car break-ins, and because some campuses have middle school and high school student programs, and summer youth camps.
Paul Valone of Grass Roots North Carolina disagreed and recited recent reports of campus violence. Its becoming clear UNC is doing a poor job keeping students safe, Valone said.
Sen. Dan Blue, a Democrat from Raleigh, with muted incredulity, asked if the bill would really allow weapons at hotly contested athletic events. Current law allows cities and counties to prohibit weapons at recreation facilities, but Blue noted, some of those places are not on city or county property.
Blue also asked what liability private property owners might have if they dont prohibit weapons. Newton said he didnt know.