A bill to repeal North Carolina’s Jim Crow-era pistol-purchase-permit law is once again making its way through the state assembly. Despite serious Republican gains in the last election, the bill still faces an uphill battle to make it into law.
On Wednesday, the North Carolina House of Representatives passed House Bill 50 on a 68-47 party-line vote. That follows last week’s vote in the state Senate, where lawmakers passed Senate Bill 41, which included purchase permit repeal. Because the repeal provisions are in two separate pieces of legislation, the chambers must negotiate a reconciliation bill before the measure can clear the legislature. With strong Republican majorities in both chambers, that is almost certain to happen.
But once it does, the bill still faces a serious roadblock: Democratic Governor Roy Cooper. He vetoed similar legislation back in August 2021.
“Gun permit laws reduce gun homicides and suicides and reduce the availability of guns for criminal activity,” Cooper said in a press release when he vetoed the bill. “At a time of rising gun violence, we cannot afford to repeal a system that works to save lives. The legislature should focus on combating gun violence instead of making it easier for guns to end up in the wrong hands.”
While he has not commented publicly on the latest legislative push to repeal the permit-to-purchase requirement, there isn’t much reason to believe he is any less opposed to the policy now than he was then.
However, some significant changes in North Carolina politics since 2021 could make Cooper’s opposition less relevant. What were once narrow majorities for Republicans in the legislature have significantly expanded. Republicans now hold a veto-proof majority in the Senate and are just one vote away from the same in the House. That means any potential Cooper veto stands a chance of being overridden by Republicans in the legislature so long as they can flip one Democrat.
That’s not an unthinkable task.
The state assembly contains Democrats who vote for pro-gun legislation from time to time. In fact, the 2021 bill to repeal the handgun permit-to-purchase requirement passed with two Democratic House members supporting it. Likewise, a proposal this session to allow permit holders to carry concealed firearms while attending religious services taking place on school property cleared the state House with the support of six Democrats. That’s despite Cooper vetoing a similar church-carry measure in 2021 alongside the permit-to-purchase repeal.
But the hill is steep for supporters of the repeal. After all, voting to help pass a bill that would clear the chamber with or without your vote is an entirely different proposition from voting to override a veto issued by a member of your own party. Republicans couldn’t get anyone to take the easier first vote; getting them to take the second harder vote will be an even taller task.
This is especially true since Governor Cooper is relatively popular. That makes it even harder for House Democrats to stick their neck out and buck the face of their party in the state.
State Representative Michael Wray (D.) is probably the best hope gun-rights advocates have for a veto. He originally signed on as a co-sponsor of House Bill 50 when it was introduced. But he changed his mind and voted against the bill after saying a local sheriff in his district expressed discomfort with the proposal.
That’s not a good sign for repeal supporters. Wray was one of the only Democrats to initially support the measure.
Five representatives were absent from the House vote on the repeal, including one Democrat, so it’s not certain exactly how the vote would have gone had they been present. The absent Democrat, Representative Cecil Brockman, doesn’t mention guns as an issue on his website.
He does, however, represent a safely blue district. So, it’s unlikely repeal advocates can count on his vote.
That leaves few options for the bill’s supporters who hope to gain a lifeline from across the aisle. Barring another change of heart from Representative Wray or some behind-the-scenes horse-trading with another Democrat, it looks as though gun-rights advocates will once again come up short in their quest to repeal the last Jim Crow-era permit-to-purchase law in the south.