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House Bills could loosen gun laws

Posted by By Beth Velliquette, on Mar 23rd 2017

Several bills have been introduced in the N.C. House that could remove restrictions on gun purchases and carrying a concealed weapon.

One of the latest, House Bill 201, called the N.C. Constitutional Carry Act, was filled by N.C. Rep. Chris Millis, a Republican who represents Onslow and Pender counties, on Feb. 28.

If passed, it would do away with North Carolina’s permit to purchase law, which requires gun buyers secure a permit to purchase a weapon. Bill 201 would allow most people to carry concealed handguns without obtaining a permit for that.

House Bill 251, introduced on March 2 by N.C. Rep. Kyle Hall, a Republican who represents Rockingham and Stokes counties, would allow most people to carry concealed handguns on any UNC or community college campus, including East Carolina University and Pitt Community College.

Still another bill in the pipeline, House Bill 69, called the Constitutional Carry Act, was filed Feb. 8, by four representatives. It would also make it lawful to carry a concealed handgun in North Carolina without a concealed handgun permit.

All three bills have passed the first reading and have been referred to committees, where they could go to die or they could be revised and eventually moved forward for a vote.

North Carolina Gun Rights, a political action committee dedicated to defending and advancing the right of North Carolina citizens to own and use firearms, called the Constitutional Carry bill “a giant leap forward for gun owners in North Carolina,” and said the permit to purchase law requires law abiding gun owners to “redundantly jump through hoops to acquire a handgun in what the federal government already deems a lawful manner.”

However, North Carolinians Against Gun Violence said it would be a mistake to allow 18 year-olds with no training to be able to carry concealed weapons and a mistake to allow people to carry guns on campuses.

The organization cites a 2010 poll that shows 67 percent of North Carolinians favor requiring county permits for handguns and a 2011 poll that said 86 percent of all Americans support background checks for gun sales.

The organization also cites the dangers from an accidental shooting and the risk of suicide by gun if guns are allowed on campus.

Under the three bills, it would still be illegal for people who are under an indictment for a felony, convicted of a felony, who are fugitives from justice, drug users, or people who had been adjudicated by the court to be lacking mental capacity or mentally ill from purchasing and carrying concealed guns.

Sheriff Neil Elks was not available either Thursday afternoon or Friday for comment about the proposed laws, and Greenville Police Chief Mark Holtzman said through his public information officer, Kristen Hunter, he believed it was premature to discuss the laws, but if they move forward in the General Assembly, then it would be a good time to have conversations with local citizens about the impact of the gun laws.

An ECU official indicated he’d rather not have people with guns on the campus because if there was a shooting incident and a student or faculty member with a gun got involved in trying to stop it, it could create a difficult situation for police who might not be able to tell the difference between the shooter and someone trying to stop the shooter.

“Concealed carry permit holder training involves limited use of the weapon and little or no tactical training,” said Bill Koch, ECU associate vice chancellor for environmental health and campus safety, in a statement.

“If there was an incident, I would much prefer highly trained law enforcement officers responding to an active shooter on campus without the added confusion of distinguishing between the shooter and lawful gun owners,” he said.

N.C. Rep. Greg Murphy, a Republican who represents part of Pitt County, said the gun laws that are in place and any proposed bills to change them will always create tension between those who favor Second Amendment rights and those who favor reasonable safeguards on gun ownership and carrying a concealed handgun.

He said he is still trying to get more information about both sides of the argument.

Murphy said he understood the argument that some believe that the shooter at Virginia Tech might have been stopped sooner if a student or faculty member had a gun, but he said also understood the other side of the argument that bad things could happen if police arrive at the scene of a shooting and see several people shooting handguns.

It’s not a straightforward issue, he said.

“I believe there are good arguments on both sides,” Murphy said.

If the bills make it out of committee, he expects there will be a lot of debate about them and he plans to listen to both sides of the arguments.

Rep. Susan Martin, a Republican who also represents a part of Pitt County, declined to speak about the bills. Through her office, she said since she was not one of the bill’s sponsors, she had not had time yet to research them.

Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield (D-Pitt) did not return a call to her office asking for comment.

Currently, to purchase a handgun, a person must be a naturalized citizen or resident alien and be 21 years of age and older. People 18 to 20 years old may apply for a restricted permit.

As part of the application process, a person gives permission for the Pitt County Clerk to inform the sheriff’s office if the clerk’s records contain a record of any involuntary mental commitment. The sheriff’s office conducts a background check and will use any information from the clerk’s office to determine a person’s qualification and competence to purchase and handle a handgun.

In Pitt County, Sheriff Neil Elks has a website where people can apply for permits to purchase handguns and permits to carry a concealed handgun.

To apply for a concealed carry permit, a person must be a citizen or naturalized citizen, be 21 years of age or older, lived in Pitt County for 30 days and not suffer from any mental or physical infirmity that would prevent safe handgun handling and operation.

A person must also complete the firearms training and safety course designed by the N.C. Criminal Justice Standards Commission.