North Carolina ends pistol permit system

Concealed Carry

North Carolina Republicans scrapped the state’s long-lived pistol permit requirement Wednesday, aided by the absence of several key Democrats, which gave Republicans the numbers they needed to overturn Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto for the first time since the GOP lost their veto-proof super majorities in the 2018 elections.

No longer will North Carolinians buying a handgun need to get permission first from their local sheriff. They’ll still need a federal background check to buy from a licensed dealer, which means handgun purchases in the state will be treated the same as rifles and shotguns.

The state sheriffs’ association backed the change, though there was dissent from Democratic sheriffs in North Carolina’s largest counties.

The pistol permit repeal takes effect immediately. The Alamance County Sheriff’s Office announced shortly after the vote that it would not longer issue permits, including permits already applied for but not yet issued. Durham County Sheriff Clarence Birkhead, who was at the legislature Wednesday and opposed the vote, said his office was preparing to dismantle its permit program too.

The vote was 71-46, dividing on party lines. Three Democrats missed the vote: reps. Michael Wray, Tricia Cotham and Cecil Brockman. That gave Republicans, one seat shy of a super majority in the House, the margin they needed to vote the measure through, which they did quickly and without allowing debate.

Brockman’s office said he had to visit urgent care this morning and didn’t provide other details. Cotham and Wray didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment, but Cotham, D-Mecklenburg, told Charlotte area media that she was getting scheduled treatment for long COVID. She called the vote’s outcome “unfortunate” and noted that she voted against the measure previously.

Cotham also said in her statement that both Republican and Democratic leaders knew she wouldn’t attend the vote. House Democratic Leader Robert Reives said immediately after the vote that he didn’t know where any of the three Democrats were.

Cotham, Wray and Brockman have all been considered more likely to work with Republican leadership this session, where vote margins will be closely watched and deals likely will be cut to pass GOP priorities over the Democratic governor’s veto. Speaker of the House Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said all three members requested excused absences Wednesday morning, and that’s when he learned they wouldn’t be there.

Wednesday’s vote came against the backdrop of consistent American gun violence and a school shooting in Nashville this week that left six dead, including three 9-year-old children. In recent years, guns became the leading cause of death for children in the United States.

Immediately after the vote Reives, D-Chatham, stood on the House floor and apologized to school children who were on a routine tour of the General Assembly and sitting in the House gallery, watching the proceedings. He told them the House is usually a deliberative body.

“Breaks my heart,” Reives said.

Republicans countered that this legislation, discussed at the statehouse for years, already had been heavily debated as it moved through various committees, then cleared the House and Senate floors over the last two months. The state Senate, where Republicans hold a veto-proof majority, took a party-line vote to override Cooper on this bill Tuesday.

The National Rifle Association said in a statement following the House vote that the permit system “served no public service in North Carolina.”

“Law-abiding residents should not have to ask the government for permission to exercise their Second Amendment rights,” the group said.

Wednesday morning’s House session ended soon after the vote, with lawmakers planning to return to the chamber at 2 p.m. Once session broke, a visibly angry Reives spoke to reporters, saying recent events may swayed opinions on the bill, but Democrats weren’t allowed to bring that up.

“We deserved to have a voice heard today on that issue,” he said. “And it is so disturbing to me … a whole part of this body is being told: ‘You speak when spoken to.’”

“How dare I go back and look at those students at Lee Senior the next time I go speak at Lee Senior and say, ‘Well we would have talked about your lockdown, but we didn’t have time,'” he said.

The thin majority in the House makes attendance extremely important. Reives said that Rep. Marvin Lucas, a Democrat who voted to repeal the permit system when the bill passed earlier this month but voted against the override, attended Wednesday’s session with a leg broken in three places. He put off surgery to be there, Reives said.

“He deserved to be able to say, ‘Guys I voted for this bill but here’s the reason I’m not voting for the bill today,” Reives said. “Eighty years old. Three breaks in his leg. Should have had surgery yesterday … and what he got told today was, ‘No, you’re not going to talk today because we’re not going to allow it.”

Senate Bill 41, titled “Guarantee 2nd Amend Freedom and Protections” does other things in addition to ending the pistol permit system. It lets people with concealed carry permits carry weapons into churches that also host private schools, as long as school, including extra-curricular activities, isn’t in session.

“There is no reason church-goers should be restricted from protecting themselves when worshiping,” NRA State Director D.J. Spiker said in a statement. “This has been a hard-fought battle, and I’m thrilled to say North Carolina is a freer state because of the state legislature’s actions.”

The bill also creates a safe firearm storage awareness campaign meant to educate the public and boost distribution of gun locks.

Moore said in a statement that the pistol permit system was outdated and that the measures approved were “long-standing goals of Second Amendment advocates in our state.”

In his own statement, Cooper said Republicans cut off debate “because the arguments were too compelling for them to hear.” He predicted the bill would allow “known domestic abusers and mentally ill people to buy handguns puts communities at risk.”

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