N.C. Senate broadens concealed-carry expansion bill

The Associated Press

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RALEIGH — A North Carolina Senate panel backed a measure Tuesday that would expand a House effort to open new areas for concealed-carry permit holders to take or store weapons and eliminate requirements to obtain a license to purchase a handgun.

The bill endorsed by a Senate judiciary committee takes a broader approach to weapon storage on school campuses and carrying concealed firearms at certain events. It also maintains new penalties and safeguards in the House bill while toughening offenses for permit holders who violate existing prohibitions.

Under the Senate bill, people could buy handguns without first obtaining a license from a county sheriff. Records of concealed-carry permits issued and weapons sales would not be open to the public.

Sen. Buck Newton, R-Wilson and the bill’s Senate sponsor, called the license change an effort to modernize a “Jim Crow” era law that impedes law-abiding citizens. Attorney General Roy Cooper opposed the move, noting that local sheriffs act as a screen by checking for felony convictions, drug abuse and court judgments related to mental health. He added that federal background checks apply only to purchases from federally licensed dealers.

“Eliminating permit background checks means more criminals, domestic abusers and the dangerous mentally ill can legally buy handguns,” Cooper said in a statement. “Instead we should be looking for ways to keep guns from them.”

Both bills have the support of gun rights groups and the North Carolina Sheriffs Association. University of North Carolina police chiefs, however, oppose it.

The Senate’s changes would allow any concealed-carry permit holder to store a weapon in a locked car on the campus of any public school. The House’s version applies only to public colleges and universities. Both versions of the bill would allow private schools to opt out of that provision.

The Senate bill keeps the House provision allowing concealed-carry permit holders to take weapons to places where alcohol is served or events that charge admission as long as an owner doesn’t expressly forbid it. But the Senate’s changes also add parades and funeral processions to the places people can take concealed weapons legally.

Both versions of the bill would allow concealed-carry permit holders to store weapons in the parking lots of state government buildings and limit local authority to ban concealed weapons in public places. Both versions also toughen penalties for convicted felons who used firearms in their crimes and require local clerks of court to report mental health findings to a national criminal background check database.

Newton argued the bill strikes a balance between enforcement and promoting responsible gun ownership, which he said has been neglected under decades of Democratic control of state government.

Gregg Stahl, a lobbyist for the North Carolina Sheriffs Association, said the group supports the bill “on the whole” but was initially concerned with the repeal of permit requirements to purchase handguns.

“(But) this does look to be attempting to align this more with the way permits are given for long guns and high-powered rifles,” Stahl said.

University of North Carolina police chiefs opposed the bill. The university’s lobbyist, Drew Moretz, said UNC doesn’t oppose the bill but fears the rate of car break-ins on campuses that otherwise have lower crime than the general population will lead to more guns in the hands of criminals.

Gail Neely, the executive director of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence, questioned the popular appeal of expanding guns to bars, restaurants and college campuses. She said gun violence is surpassing automobile fatalities in other states that have relaxed gun laws.

“This is ridiculous,” she said. “There is no credible evidence that this bill will make us safer in North Carolina. We have tons of evidence to show it may not, in fact, make us safer.”

The Senate bill passed on a voice vote and now heads to the full Senate.