It may soon be easier for North Carolinians to buy handguns.
The North Carolina General Assembly sent House Bill 398 to Governor Roy Cooper (D.) on Friday. The bill seeks to repeal the state’s 102-year-old law requiring residents to obtain a permit to purchase a handgun from their local sheriff. Instead, purchases would be subject to a standard National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) background check.
The current process requires applicants to appear in person to their local sheriff with a government ID, pay a fee, undergo a background check, and provide a valid reason for owning a pistol. Sheriffs are granted discretion in determining whether the applicant is of good moral character. The law requires a permit to be granted or denied within 14 days of a submitted application.
The impetus for the reform comes, in part, from the decision of some Sheriff’s offices to delay the processing of permit applications over the course of the pandemic. Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker (D.) shut down all processing of new pistol permit applications during the early days of the pandemic last year, in the midst of unprecedented demand. He was forced to reopen the process after being sued by gun-rights organizations. A similar lawsuit was filed earlier this month against Mecklenburg County sheriff Garry McFadden (D.) after residents complained of seven-month delays in processing their permit applications.
Gun-rights advocates cheered the bill’s passage and called for the governor to sign it into law.
“The pistol purchase permit was created before modern, computerized background checks existed, and the federal NICS checks that licensed firearms dealers use are often completed within minutes,” David McFarling, North Carolina Rifle and Pistol Association president, said in a statement. “It is unnecessary to add undue burdens on law-abiding citizens when we already have federal background checks. We urge the governor to sign HB 398.”
Supporters of the bill, including McFarling, said the current regime is a vestige of the Jim Crow South when legislatures passed laws to prevent African-Americans and other minorities from obtaining firearms. They said other Southern states have done away with similar permitting laws.
Supporters also complained the current system is inefficient and inferior to the federal background check system.
“North Carolina’s court system finished furnishing mental health involuntary commitment records to NICS in 2019, ensuring that it can do thorough checks. The Pistol Purchase Permit requirement makes no sense to have our sheriffs tasked with approving and issuing individual pistol purchase permits,” McFarling said. “Their work is duplicative, costly and an unnecessary burden on law enforcement and law-abiding gun owners.”
Opponents of the bill said the current regime works to save lives. They said the new bill, if signed into law, could exacerbate the state’s struggles with gun violence.
“2020 was the most violent year in the 21st century in our state,” Becky Ceartas, executive director of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence, said in a statement. “Gun deaths, excluding suicides, rose by 31% in 2020 compared to 2019 and repealing our pistol purchase permitting system will surely mean the loss of more lives.”
Governor Cooper’s office did not respond to a request for comment. He can either sign the bill, veto it, or allow it to become law by taking no action at all.