RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina Republican lawmakers advanced legislation on Tuesday to eliminate the requirement that anyone who wants to carry a concealed handgun must get a permit from the local sheriff.
The effort comes barely a month after the Republican-controlled General Assembly agreed with gun-rights groups and repealed — overriding Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto — another kind of permit issued by sheriffs before someone could buy a pistol.
Those groups now are lobbying to eliminate the concealed handgun permit mandate, which has been in place in North Carolina for nearly 30 years. Several hundred thousand people hold such permits, according to one bill supporter. The bill also would lower the age in which someone can carry a concealed firearm from the current 21 to 18.
There are 27 states that already allow people to carry a concealed weapon without a permit, according to the U.S. Concealed Carry Association, so “it’s not something new,” said GOP Rep. Keith Kidwell of Beaufort County, a bill sponsor. The measure cleared the House judiciary committee by a 7-4 vote despite opposition by the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association, which calls the vetting necessary to help deputies know who may be armed.
The action comes two days before a parliamentary deadline for policy legislation to clear one legislative chamber so it can be considered through the remainder of the two-year session. The measure still must clear one more committee before reaching the House floor.
Gun-control advocates at the meeting rejected Kidwell’s arguments that states with so-called “constitutional carry” laws haven’t seen an increase in crime. They said statistics show that getting rid of the permits would mean higher rates of gun-related homicides, violent crimes and gun thefts.
“This may be about the right to carry and freedom to carry, but it’s not about public safety,” said Rep. Marcia Morey, a Durham County Democrat. “ ”Public opinion is demanding we do something to protect people from mass shootings, from gun violence. This bill is the opposite of what people are demanding.”
Currently a sheriff must issue a five-year permit to an applicant that meets several qualifications. They must have completed a qualified training course, avoided convictions of felonies or other specific crimes and lack a mental or physical disability that prevents a weapon’s safe handling. Sheriffs have 45 days after receiving an applicant’s mental health records to issue or deny a permit.
Those qualifications and others would remain in place in the bill. But it would be up to the weapons holder to comply with them.
“This is a relatively modest bite at the apple because it basically limits the concealed carry without a permit to the same class of people who can get a permit,” Paul Valone, president of gun-rights group Grass Roots North Carolina told the committee.
The permitting process itself wouldn’t be removed from state law. It would remain in place for people who still want a permit as evidence to qualify to hold a concealed weapon in another state. It also can help speed up the criminal background check process before buying a gun.
Marie Evitt, a sheriffs’ association lobbyist, told the committee that local sheriffs have professionals working with them to determine whether an applicant complies with the permitting law.
With this legislation, “we’re expecting the citizens to be able to figure that out themselves,” Evitt said. “This bill would make it nearly impossible for law enforcement to know when they approach someone whether they qualify as someone who can carry concealed.” The association supported earlier this year doing away with the pistol purchase permit process.
There are several places where concealed weapons would remain prohibited, such as government buildings and places where concealed weapons prohibition signs have been posted. The bill would eliminate the prohibition against carrying a concealed weapon in establishments where alcohol is served as long as the handgun holder isn’t drinking.
The bill also would allow any elected official — including a legislator — to carry a concealed handgun when performing official duties. But they must still obtain a permit from the local sheriff. Kidwell said legislators have received death threats over the last two years.