RALEIGH, N.C. (WRAL-NBC) — A House committee voted Wednesday in favor of a bill that would eliminate North Carolina's requirement that people obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon.
House Bill 746 creates "parity" for people who are allowed to carry guns openly but suddenly find themselves on the wrong side of the law if they put on a jacket and cover up their holstered sidearms simply because they lack a concealed carry permit, said sponsor Rep. Chris Millis, R-Pender.
"This bill would allow law-abiding citizens to be able to carry concealed, regardless of obtaining the mandatory government permit, and this ability to carry concealed is only in places where it is currently allowable to openly carry a firearm," Millis said, noting 13 other U.S. states have similar rules on the books.
Concealed carry permits are issued through a county sheriff's office, which conducts a criminal background check and looks for records of mental illness or incapacity. The requirement has long been a sore spot with gun rights advocates, who say it gives sheriffs too much power to deny gun owners what they say is their constitutional right to carry a concealed weapon.
Guns purchased through a licensed dealer would still require a federal background check, but those checks aren't required for purchases from non-licensed sellers at gun shows or for private sales. In those cases, however, the North Carolina buyers would have already gone through the background check called for to obtain a pistol purchase permit from their local sheriff.
Still, gun control advocates say the concealed carry permit offers extra backup for those sales and ensures that gun owners have basic safety training.
"This bill would roll back one of North Carolina's core public safety laws by allowing people to carry hidden loaded handguns in public with no permit and no firearm safety training," Christy Clark of Huntersville, North Carolina chapter leader for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, told members of the House Judiciary IV Committee.
The bill does include a provision for a firearm safety class to be offered as an elective course in North Carolina high schools.
Daniel Patrick, of gun rights group Grass Roots North Carolina, called the proposal a "gradual evolution of personal protection legislation" and noted that other states that have similar laws haven't had any problems because of it.
North Carolina gun owners could still obtain a concealed carry permit to use when traveling out of state, as many states recognize each other's permits.
Rep. Deb Butler, D-New Hanover, said she worries that removing the permit process puts the onus on individuals to determine if they are qualified to carry a gun.
"I do see a paradigm shift in the way we are treating this, and I do see that we are eliminating a very valuable stopgap measure," Butler said. "Gun violence has proliferated like crazy in this country. We all know that. My fear is that we're asking citizens to disqualify themselves, to understand and know whether they are capable of carrying (a weapon) in an open fashion, and I just think that's a dangerous step to take."
Millis said the state's pistol permit process already gives sheriff's the ability to perform background checks.
"Right now, status quo, if you don't pass this bill, criminals have the advantage in our state," he said. "They can see if you have a firearm on you, or they're playing the odds that, did you traverse the permit process?
"This bill puts our law-abiding citizens to be able to defend themselves," he said.
Republicans on the committee beat back several Democratic-sponsored amendments to the bill, such as raising the age to carry a handgun from 18 to 21 or allowing people in state agencies to determine that someone should be prohibiting from possessing a gun because of a mental issue, and the passed the bill on a voice vote.
The bill must still go through the House Finance Committee before getting a floor vote.