It would no longer be necessary to have a concealed handgun permit to bring a gun anywhere that firearms can already be carried openly, under a bill that a divided state House tentatively approved on Wednesday.
The change would eliminate the need for concealed-carry permits for adults who are at least 18 and are not otherwise prohibited from owning firearms, except where open-carry is barred. That would change current law that requires concealed-carry applicants be at least 21 and complete firearm safety training to obtain a permit.
The debate on House Bill 746 was preceded by days of intense pressure from national and statewide gun-control and gun-rights advocates. It resulted in an 11-vote margin; eight Republicans broke from the majority and voted with all Democrats against the bill. The vote was 65-54.
Rep. Susan Fisher, a Democrat from Asheville, set the tone for the afternoon when she delivered the daily prayer peppered with references to the victims of gun violence.
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Republican leaders used procedural maneuvers to bat down a series of amendments offered by Democrats, and eventually shut down the debate with six amendments pending. A final vote in the House is expected on Thursday, which would send the bill to the Senate.
“It will expand opportunities for law-abiding citizens to better protect themselves and their loved ones from harm,” Rep. Chris Millis, a Republican from Hampstead who is the main sponsor of the bill.
The bill would also allow assistant district attorneys to bring concealed weapons into courtrooms and legislators and their staffs to bring them into the Legislative Building if they have concealed weapon permits.
Under current law, sheriffs have 45 days from the time they receive mental health records regarding an applicant for a concealed weapons permit to approve or deny the permit. The bill would require they decide within 90 days of the application, regardless of when they receive the records.
Lowering the age and eliminating safety training were sore points with Rep. William Richardson, a Democrat from Fayetteville.
“This isn’t Second Amendment protection,” he said. “This is absurdity.”
One of the Republicans who voted against the bill was Rep. John Faircloth of High Point, a former police chief. He pointed out that the bill doesn’t limit the number of concealed handguns someone could carry, and said law enforcement is worried that the bill will facilitate gang violence.
Gangs sometimes rely on recruits who don’t have criminal records to carry firearms for the members who do. Under this bill, Faircloth said, a recruit could walk down the street with a satchel full of handguns with impunity.
The bill would also make it easier for troubled 18-year-olds to impulsively confront antagonists with weapons that had been concealed, Faircloth said. He said the bill should be reworked.
The National Rifle Association, which has been instrumental in passing a similar law in 12 other states, has been vocally promoting HB 746. A spokeswoman issued a statement on Wednesday:
“A record number of Americans carry a firearm for personal protection because it is increasingly evident that law enforcement cannot always be there to protect us,” Catherine Mortensen said. “This legislation simply expands self-defense options for law-abiding citizens.
“As Americans take more responsibility for their self-protection, we need common-sense laws that recognize it’s often more convenient and socially acceptable to carry discretely. Under this legislation, North Carolina’s current concealed handgun permitting scheme would remain intact.”
Becky Cearas of North Carolinians Against Handgun Violence also issued a statement:
“We are incredibly disappointed that lawmakers in Raleigh voted to water down the concealed carry weapons permitting system,” she said. “The changes that they made essentially do away with the key components of the concealed carry weapons permitting system.
“The concealed carry weapons permitting system ensures that 18 year olds cannot buy a gun and requires eight hours of classroom and live fire training. Without these classes, the public cannot be certain that a gun owner is knowledgeable of the rules and laws of carrying a hidden loaded weapon in public.”
A gun-rights group, Grass Roots N.C., says it sent an email to 120,000 gun-owning voters calling on them to contact their legislators to support HB 746.
Grass Roots N.C. President Paul Valone emailed members the home addresses, photographs and other personal contact information for lobbyists working for gun-control groups.
A previous version of this story incorrectly said assistant district attorneys could bring concealed weapons into the courtroom and legislators and their staffs could bring them into the Legislative Building without permits.