Bill seeks to end pistol purchase permits from NC sheriffs

Published 11:16 pm Tuesday, April 20, 2021

By Gary D. Robertson
Associated Press

RALEIGH(AP) — North Carolina would end the long practice of sheriffs issuing permits to county residents before they can purchase handguns in a measure recommended on Tuesday by a House judiciary committee.

During the pistol purchase permit process, which dates back to 1919, a sheriff decides whether an applicant is of good moral character, plans to use the weapon for a lawful purpose and conducts a criminal background check. People convicted of felonies and other crimes can’t be issued permits.

But repeal supporters said the practice is outdated and carried out unevenly, depending on the county and the sheriff.

“It’s been a very flawed system for a very long time,” said Rep. Jay Adams, a Catawba County Republican and a bill sponsor.

Adams said federal gun dealers already are required to perform national instant background checks before a person can purchase or receive a handgun. These reviews also include information about whether the individual has been involuntarily committed for mental health or substance abuse treatment, which would be grounds for denying the sale.

A more robust national background check system is the main reason why the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association is now backing a repeal after years of opposing the idea. North Carolina has made a concerted effort to upload more state mental health records to the database, Adams said.

What the national background check “has done to the pistol purchase permit is what email has done to a fax machine, and that is, it’s made it obsolete,” Eddie Caldwell, the association’s executive vice president, said after the voice vote. The association’s executive committee agreed to support the repeal, he said.

Permits already aren’t required if someone wants to purchase a rifle. And the measure wouldn’t end the 25-year-old requirement that sheriffs issue concealed-weapons permits. Under current law, people with such permits don’t need to get a separate purchase permit.

Democratic House judiciary committee members who voted against the measure noted it also would also eliminate a previous requirement that individuals get an OK from the sheriff before buying a pistol from another individual in a private sale.

“For decades, the permit purchase law has been the backbone of public safety in North Carolina, keeping guns out of the hands of felons, domestic abusers and people experiencing a mental health crisis,” Becky Ceartas with North Carolinians Against Gun Violence told the panel. “I urge you to preserve the system.”

Adams said that private sellers still have the option to ask that a federal firearms licensee conduct a national background check of a potential purchaser.

Doing away with the pistol purchase permit process has been a top priority of gun rights groups for years.

Andy Stevens with the gun-rights group Grass Roots North Carolina told the committee that while some sheriffs in small counties can issue a permit in less than an hour, the application process takes much longer elsewhere.

The pistol purchase law “was never envisioned to have 100 different sheriffs interpret the law in different ways,” Stevens said. He said a person convicted of a crime could purchase a handgun with a sheriff’s permit issued years before, but an instant check conducted before a sale wouldn’t miss that conviction.

The bill must go to one more committee before reaching the House floor. It also would have to pass the Senate. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who would be asked to sign any bill into law, has supported more gun restrictions following mass shootings in recent years.