The new legislation would make North Carolina one of roughly a dozen states that allow people to carry a concealed handgun without a permit.
Late last week the North Carolina House of Representatives voted to approve HB 746 which would allow citizens to carry a concealed handgun in certain places without a permit—including legislative buildings. Gun owners will no longer be required to attend an eight-hour training course currently needed for a concealed permit unless they travel to locations where a permit is still law. The bill also seeks to allow those at least 18 years old, and not otherwise prohibited by law, to carry a concealed handgun.
A series of amendments to the bill were proposed by Democrats in the House that addressed proximity to alcohol, the age requirements, and the domestic violence histories of those who can carry a concealed weapon without a permit. Each amendment was either defeated or tabled without debate or consideration.
According to Republican Rep. Chris Millis, sponsor of the bill, it would “expand the opportunities for law-abiding citizens to be able to better protect themselves and their loved ones from harm, according to the liberties afforded by our Constitution.”
Laura Leslie, a reporter with WRAL-TV, writes, “The proposal would allow legislators, legislative employees, and former law enforcement officers to carry weapons at the legislative complex, even on chamber floors, as long as they have a concealed carry permit. However, the public would be banned from carrying weapons at the legislature, as well as on the grounds of the courts, the State Capitol and the governor’s residences.”
The bill still needs Senate approval before it goes to Governor Roy Cooper for his consideration.
What’s the Big Deal?
HB746, does not make a single change to how firearms are purchased in the state—permits are still required for any citizen to purchase a gun. Currently, a second permit is required to be allowed to carry a concealed weapon in the state.
Rep. Millis offered this example: During the summer, someone could be wearing a holster in plain sight and have it be legal, but if that person were to put on a jacket or coat in the winter and that gun is now covered, it would be breaking the law if that individual did not have a permit.
“If someone can legally carry openly…there is no legitimate reason for that person to not be able to carry concealed,” argues another bill sponsor, Rep. Larry Pittman.
Background Check Changes
County sheriffs’ offices currently issue concealed carry permits after conducting a criminal background check which includes a search for any records of mental illness. Many gun rights activists say this process wrongly gives sheriffs the power to deny a citizen of his or her constitutional right to carry a concealed gun.
The North Carolina Association of Police Chiefs (NCACP) came out against the bill, as did some of the state’s most prominent law enforcement officers. “Repeal of the concealed carry permit requirement eliminates a valuable method to identify persons who should not be carrying a firearm, such as the mentally ill, convicted felons, and identified gang members,” NCACP said in a written statement. “The NCACP opposes the repeal of the concealed carry permit system as detrimental to the safety of the public and law enforcement officers.”
The bill adds limits on what can be asked of applicants in cases where a permit might still be required in the future. Sheriffs would no longer be able to deny a pistol permit on grounds of mental disability or mental illness unless the applicant has been declared by a court to be a danger to himself or to others, or unless the applicant has a diagnosed disorder that could make him or her a safety risk.
A huge change coming with HB 746 is that it eliminates the current requirement for state-approved safety courses required by sheriffs’ offices. In fact, the North Carolina Association of Police Chiefs (NCACP) came out against the bill, as did some of the state’s most prominent law enforcement officers.
Joe Killian, an investigative reporter with NC Policy Watch, spoke with both Guilford County Sheriff B.J. Barnes, a Republican, and Rockingham County Sheriff Sam Page and gleaned the following:
“You need that training, as far as how to handle a gun and when to handle a gun—when to pull it, when not to pull it, legal things that you need to know about carrying and pulling it,” warns Barnes. “If you don’t have the requirement for that kind of training, a lot of people are not going to educate themselves. And that’s dangerous.”
“I do think there should be a gun safety class component for anyone who wants to carry, open or concealed,” Page said. “I never want to support bills that would add restrictions on law abiding citizens—I look at the constitutional side of the issue, the right to keep and bear arms. But our law now has that gun safety aspect and I would hope that someone would insert that amendment.”
Barnes is not alone in his opinion. Former police chief and Republican Rep. John Faircloth of Guilford County, voted against HB 746 and confirmed the training aspect is part of his reasoning. He says, “[This legislation] is not going to make a big dent in what might could happen anyway, but it does open up a lot of possibilities that I think we could probably close with a little more work on this bill, particularly in the area of requiring some kind of training.”
A statement from North Carolinians Against Handgun Violence made it clear the organization is also disappointed that concealed weapons carriers would no longer have to undergo 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.”
Age Limit Changes
Many take issue with the fact that HB 746 would also lower the minimum age for a person to conceal carry from 21 to 18 and apply to individuals who are not otherwise prohibited by law to carry a firearm.
House Minority Leader Darren Jackson doesn’t think it makes sense to let 18-year-olds carry concealed handguns without training. He says his GOP colleagues counter this concern with the fact that the U.S. allows 18-year-olds to serve in the military. While this fact is true, Jackson says he doubts that that such young, new recruits are given a gun on their first day and allowed to walk downtown with it in their pocket.
Sheriff Barnes definitely agrees with Jackson. “There’s nothing magical about the age of 18,” he said. “You don’t all of a sudden become enlightened. Just because you’re 18 doesn’t give you all the answers.”
Craig Jarvis, a reporter with the Winston-Salem Journal, adds that Rep. Millis says the bill does not broadly expand where guns can be taken, but simply modifies current law. “It’s a sensible piece of legislation affirming the commitment to liberties afforded” by the constitution, he says.
What are those modifications? Jarvis, writes:
Restaurants, stores, and other private businesses could still prohibit weapons from their premises. Indicted or convicted felons, illegal drug users, the mentally ill or mentally incapacitated, those under domestic violence orders, and others, would be prohibited from carrying handguns.
Firearms could not be taken into establishments or public assemblies where alcohol is sold and consumed; they would be banned from the State Capitol, Executive Mansion, or Western Residence of the governor, courthouses—with exceptions for judges, prosecutors, registrars of deeds, and others—at protests and in the buildings of the General Assembly.
Legislators, legislative employees, and some former law enforcement personnel would be allowed to carry concealed weapons at the Legislative Building and the Legislative Office Building in Raleigh.
Concealed or open-carry firearms would be allowed at state highway rest stops and in state parks.
Laws & Penalties Could Shift
Carrying a concealed weapon without a permit is currently a Class 2 misdemeanor punishable by 30 days to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000, or both. A second offense will earn a Class I felony and three to 12 months in jail.
If you are charged today with a Class 1 misdemeanor for violating a property’s gun ban or bringing a gun to a parade, demonstration, courthouse, or state property, you can expect one to 20 days of active, intermediate, or community punishment.
HB 746 would essentially erase such violations and the punishment that comes with it. No matter where you stand on the issue, major changes to the gun laws in North Carolina could be just around the corner. Be sure you keep your eyes on this legislation.
For more information or to schedule a consultation, please contact GreeneWilson Attorneys at Law by calling (252) 634-9400 or visiting www.greenewilson.com.
(Sources: Winston-Salem Journal; WTVD-TV Raleigh-Durham; WRAL-TV Raleigh-Durham-Fayetteville; North Carolina Moms Demand Action; North Carolinians Against Gun Violence; NC Policy Watch; WGHP-TV High Point; and North Carolina Association of Police Chiefs.)