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Republican lawmakers take aim at North Carolina's pistol permit requirement

Tom Def

Republican-backed legislation in the North Carolina General Assembly would eliminate the need for a state-issued permit to purchase a firearm.

The measure advanced in committee on Tuesday, moving it closer to an almost guaranteed showdown with Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat who vetoed a similar bill last session.

To proponents of repealing North Carolina's pistol permit requirement, the regulatory hurdle is redundant and makes it more difficult for law-abiding citizens to exercise their constitutional right to bear firearms.

"Anyone who purchases a handgun still has to go through the process, if they're buying from a dealer, of a NICS background check, which is a federal background check," said state Sen. Danny Britt (R-Hoke, Robeson, Scotland), a criminal defense attorney, at a news conference on Tuesday with other GOP lawmakers. Britt was referring to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System established as part of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993.

Republican lawmakers held the news conference on Tuesday to push for the repeal of the state's pistol permit requirement, which was bundled together with other gun-related legislation.

Another provision would allow people to carry firearms on church property, including sites with religious schools. That measure brought out some local clergymen who supported the right to bear arms in churches.

"For the people that come into our church every week, even though they have gone through background checks and they have passed them and they have a constitutional ability to carry their weapon are no longer allowed to have that weapon on our church property because of the way the current laws are," said Tim Butler, senior pastor of People's Baptist Church in Greenville, and the president of Greenville Christian Academy.

"We would simply like to be able to offer the protection that our congregants need on a regular basis," Butler added before providing a long list of churches across the country that suffered through mass shootings.

Gun control and safety advocates also turned out in large numbers for Tuesday's committee meeting, urging lawmakers to abandon efforts to repeal the state's permit requirement.

Like them, state Sen. Mujtaba Mohammed (D-Mecklenburg), believes repealing the permit requirement will make North Carolinians less safe.

"Now we're essentially creating a loophole when it comes to the private sale of guns," Mohammed told WUNC, after the judiciary committee advanced the legislation along party lines.

While a federal background check is required for the purchase of a firearm from a licensed dealer, it is not required in private transactions.

Mohammed contends that the state permits provide a layer of protection in private gun sales because sheriffs' offices must first run background checks before issuing them.

"Like checking the Administrative Office of Courts, checking to see if there's any pending criminal charges before approving a pistol purchase permit," Mohammed explained.

Republican lawmakers also say they are pushing to repeal the permit requirement because of its roots in the Jim Crow era, used then as a tool to deny African Americans the right to possess guns.

But opponents of the legislation are not buying that line.

"If that's the case, the North Carolina Constitution is also rooted in Jim Crow, so please don't insult our intelligence by saying that it's about race as the reason to move this bill into law," said Gerald Givens, Jr., president of the Raleigh-Apex chapter of the NAACP, who added he has lost family members to gun violence, including his grandfather and brother.

Givens also urged lawmakers to approve legislation that would promote safe storage of guns, a measure that has broad support. But Senate Republicans have put the safe storage provision in legislation with the more controversial measures to repeal the permit requirement and allow concealed guns on church property.

Should the legislation pass the Republican-majority legislature, as it seems likely to do, it will almost certainly be vetoed by Gov. Cooper.

Last session, when Cooper vetoed a permit repeal bill, Republicans had simple majorities in each chamber. This time around, the GOP has a veto-proof supermajority in the Senate and holds 71 seats in the 120-member House.

Overrides need a three-fifths vote of those present in each chamber. That means Republicans could prevail in overriding a veto with just one House Democrat voting across the aisle or electing to stay home.

Copyright 2023 North Carolina Public Radio. To see more, visit North Carolina Public Radio.

Rusty Jacobs is a politics reporter for WUNC. Rusty previously worked at WUNC as a reporter and substitute host from 2001 until 2007 and now returns after a nine-year absence during which he went to law school at Carolina and then worked as an Assistant District Attorney in Wake County.