The N.C. House on Tuesday tentatively passed a watered-down version of a gun bill after stripping out provisions that would have repealed the state’s pistol permit system and allowed lawmakers to carry concealed weapons in the legislature.
After more than four hours of debate, lawmakers voted 78-37 for HB 562. A final vote is expected Wednesday.
But with many Republicans joining Democrats in removing the bill’s most contentious provisions, gun control advocates declared victory.
“Today was a super-successful day for North Carolina,” said Sarah Green, state chapter leader of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “We are building an opposition to the gun lobby.”
And former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, co-founder of a group called Americans for Responsible Solutions, which ran television ads against the bill, called the vote “great news for common sense and for safer communities.”
Republican Rep. Jacqueline Schaffer of Charlotte, a bill sponsor, said she was disappointed that the bill was changed, although she said what’s left still improves the current system.
“It’s absolutely better than nothing,” she said after the vote. “We do want a consensus bill. And we do want a bill that folks are comfortable with.”
One of the most pivotal votes came on an amendment to remove the provision that would have repealed the current pistol permit system.
Currently, handgun buyers must get a permit from their local sheriff, who does a background check. The bill would have ended that program by 2021 and granted exceptions in the meantime.
Schaffer and other supporters said most handgun buyers would be subject to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS. They said the federal system would offer a more standardized, less arbitrary system.
Critics called the current system an infringement on Second Amendment rights.
GOP Rep. Larry Pittman of Cabarrus County invoked Paul Revere and the original patriots in calling it it an “unjust and unconstitutional requirement.”
“They didn’t have to wait for some sheriff to get their weapons and defend their freedom,” he told colleagues. “The pistol permit system system begins to impose that kind of government tyranny.”
But the N.C. Sheriffs Association strongly opposed the provision. The amendment to take it out of the bill passed 77-38.
“The sheriffs of North Carolina are grateful to the 77 House members,” said Eddie Caldwell, the association’s executive vice president and general counsel. He called the proposed repeal the part of the bill “that most jeopardized public safety.”
Another contentious provision was removed in an amendment introduced by Republican Rep. Leo Daughtry of Johnston County. It would have allowed lawmakers and legislative staff with concealed carry permits to carry their weapons in the General Assembly.
Democratic Rep. Becky Carney of Charlotte said that was absurd.
“I’m beginning to think this bill is more about ‘shoot now and ask questions later.’” she said. “Let’s keep civility in our chambers, within our buildings.”
GOP Rep. Michael Speciale of Craven County argued that armed lawmakers could help prevent violence in the building.
“To make it appear that we’re going to have a shootout at the OK Corral … is just a red herring,” he said.
The House voted 69-44 for Daughtry’s amendment, with 28 Republicans joining Democrats in support.
A third amendment removed part of the bill that would have returned pistol permits after three years to people convicted of some misdemeanors. That would have included some people convicted of crimes such as stalking, often seen in domestic violence cases.
GOP Rep. Rena Turner of Iredell County said the shorter time period “is simply not enough to provide security the victim and their families.” And Republican Rep. Charles Jeter of Huntersville said “to me there is no singular, more important amendment.”
Republican efforts to change the bill won applause from gun control advocates.
“It was really great that most of the amendments we saw today were brought forth by Republicans,” said Green, of Moms Demand Action. “This is not a partisan issue. We are talking about common sense safety laws.”
Taylor Knopf of the (Raleigh) News & Observer contributed.