Under the Dome

Gun bill has new addition: Lawmakers, employees could have weapons at legislature

A new provision added to gun legislation under consideration at the General Assembly would allow state legislators and legislative employees with concealed handgun permits to carry their weapons around the state legislative complex, including on the floors of the House and Senate.

But General Assembly Police Chief Jeff Weaver, whose force is responsible for maintaining safety throughout the complex, said Thursday morning that he didn’t want to comment on the provision because he hadn’t talked to the gun bill’s main sponsors about it. He said he’d rather address the issue with legislators rather than through the media.

“Naturally, I’m concerned as the chief of police,” Weaver said. “That sponsoring member hasn’t contacted me about it.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Weaver said he didn’t know that provision had been added to House Bill 562, which passed the House Rules Committee that day and could come to the full House for a vote any day. Weaver said Wednesday he is generally concerned about the number of visitors to the legislative complex that carry guns already, from local and state law enforcement officers to everyday citizens.

“I’m concerned about the number of guns that probably are in here now that we have no idea are in here, and that’s from other law enforcement officers, as well as any citizen could come in here with a concealed handgun,” Weaver said. “I’m not naive enough to believe it doesn’t take place.”

He added: “Having any number of guns in here could be dangerous.”

The latest version of the wide-ranging “Second Amendment Affirmation Act” would allow legislators and legislative employees with concealed handgun permits to carry their weapons at the legislative complex, provided that they notify the General Assembly police chief in advance. Rep. Jacqueline Schaffer, a Charlotte Republican and primary sponsor of the bill, said people have raised the issue that North Carolina’s Legislative Building is the “least secure legislative building in the country.”

“We deal with a lot of public and we deal with a lot of issues that individuals feel like they would like to protect themselves if needed, particularly because there are no metal detectors. There’s kind of a lack of security in that respect,” Schaffer said.

Weaver disputed that characterization. “There are a lot of other legislative buildings across the country that have the same level of protection as this one and less, and a lot of them have more,” he said.

Asked whether she would bring her gun to the Legislative Building, Schaffer said she might depending on the situation. “Perhaps if I knew I was going to be very late,” she said. “I’m a single woman. ...If I’ve got to walk from the Legislative Building out to my car, maybe I would.”

Rep. Jeff Collins, a Rocky Mount Republican, sponsored separate legislation this year to allow legislators and legislative employees with concealed carry permits to bring their weapons to work to protect themselves. “We have a lot of people stirring up a lot of negative sentiment about us here, and I really would like for this building as long as possible not to have metal detectors on the doors and for people to just come and go,” he said.

Rep. Larry Hall, a Durham Democrat and the House minority leader, opposed the idea of allowing legislators to carry guns. He joked Wednesday at a news conference that he wanted to give legislators and legislative employees an allowance to pay for they cost of “appropriate body armor so they can be protected.”

Hall pointed out that people often get injured by their own guns. “It puts us at risk and it puts the public at risk, and this is their building and they should be safe when they come in here,” he said.

“They should not be required to have a gun on them in order to feel safe because certainly that won’t make them safe.”

The bill is House Bill 562.

Patrick Gannon writes for the NCInsider.com, a government news service owned by The News & Observer. www.ncinsider.com