CHARLOTTE, N.C.-- Legislation making its way through the North Carolina General Assembly would allow anyone with a concealed carry permit to carry their weapon into a restaurant, bar, or park.
The gun lobby calls the issue a matter of protection. "We are looking to make sure that deterrence is the order of the day in restaurants and parks," explained president of Grass Roots North Carolina, Paul Valone, who played in part in crafting a bill that passed the NC House Wednesday.
"Since we passed conceal carry, for 16 years, concealed permit holders have proven themselves to be sane, sober and law abiding," he explained. "Essentially, by banning firearms, let's say in a public park, you actually create a victim disarmament zone which would draw violent predators to that area."
Larry Hyatt, the owner of Hyatt Guns and Coins on Wilkinson Boulevard says he supports the new bill.
"The public is going to find out that it's really a good law. There is nothing to be worried about."
That's because Hyatt says those with CWPs go through a 2 to 3 month process just to get this permit.
"If you have you Concealed to Carry License, you've been through training, you've had your background checked, your mental health checked, your fingerprints, your military record checked," explained Hyatt.
Thousands of people throughout the state have gone through that very process. In Mecklenburg County alone, Sheriff Chipp Bailey says 15,000 people have their permits in the pockets, and possibly even their handguns.
Valone says the bill would override ordinances that ban guns in parks in most North Carolina counties, including Mecklenburg. It would do away with what he calls a "loophole" in the law that keeps guns out of restaurants or bars that serve alcohol. Restaurants would still have a legal right to individually ban guns, and laws that ban permitted gun users from drinking while carrying a weapon would still apply.
"In recent years both Tennessee and Virginia has passed restaurant carry, and neither has had any problem," Valone said.
Opponents of the law say Grass Roots' logic is flawed.
"The sad truth is that more guns just equal more guns. No valid statistical evidence exists to show that allowing concealed weapons in more locations reduces crime," wrote Roxane Kolar, Executive Director of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence."To the contrary, evidence suggests that loosening restrictions on concealed guns may actually increase crime. A recent study found that states with higher gun ownership rates and weak gun laws have the highest rates of overall gun death."
Tricia Cotham (D-Mecklenburg), who voted against the legislation Wednesday, says the issue is a distraction. "I think we need to focus on the priorities of this state--jobs and education--and not cater to the agenda of a small political minority."
When we took the question to Mac's Speed Shop in Cornelius, we found a range of opinions.
"Somebody that can carry a gun because they are of sound mind and judgment when they’re sober and able to obtain that permit, it might a different story when they are drinking," said bartender Kelly Peavy. "I have complete faith in the police department. If I need help, I’ll call 911."
Customer Katie Forster disagreed. "I feel like if you are going to go through the training to get your concealed weapons permit, then you should be able to take your gun wherever."
Her friend Samantha Stoner doubts that all permit holders will obey the rules against drinking. "Technically, you are not supposed to come to a bar and drive either," she said.
The legislation is one of several bills that would expand gun rights in North Carolina, It now goes before the North Carolina State Senate.