NC Senate reviews bill that would end sheriffs gun permits

Published 11:55 pm Tuesday, August 10, 2021

By Gary D. Robertson
Associated Press

RALEIGH — North Carolina Republicans pressed ahead Tuesday with legislation that would repeal the state’s century-old practice of requiring residents to obtain a permit from the local sheriff before buying a handgun.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to recommend the measure, which passed the House three months ago. The bill must clear one more committee before reaching the Senate floor. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who has supported gun restrictions in response to the mass shootings of recent years, is likely to consider vetoing the bill if it gets to his desk.

The bill is opposed by the gun-control group North Carolinians Against Gun Violence, but has the backing of the gun-rights group Grass Roots North Carolina and the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association. For years, the association had opposed eliminating the permit requirement.

But now the process has become duplicative because the federal background checks that licensed gun dealers conduct have become more robust, association lobbyist David Ferrell told the committee. Bill supporters say the federal checks effectively reveal problems with potential gun buyers, such as involuntarily commitments for mental health, or substance abuse treatment.

“The National Instant Criminal Background Check System has been evolving for over 25 years. And it’s effective — it is effective and it’s instantaneous,” said Rep. Jay Adams, a Catawba County Republican and the bill’s chief sponsor. The sheriff’s permit requirement is “felt to be obsolete at this point,” Adams said.

Sheriffs also perform reviews of applications for concealed handgun permits. Rifle owners are not required to obtain the purchase permit under current law. Neither would change under the bill.

Some Senate Democrats on the committee said the measure would take away a key tool that sheriffs have to block gun access for some residents, thus preventing violence and deaths.

Current law demands that a sheriff determine whether an applicant is of good moral character and if the person plans to use the weapon for a lawful purpose. People convicted of felonies and other crimes can’t be issued permits.

Eliminating the pistol purchase permit requirement would in turn end the current requirement that an individual get a permit before buying a pistol from another individual in a private sale. That would create an “outrageously large loophole,” said Sen. Natasha Marcus, a Mecklenburg County Democrat. She said her county’s sheriff didn’t request the change.

“Our country has seen constantly … a number of mass shootings, all types of gun violence,” said Sen. Mujtaba Mohammed, another Mecklenburg Democrat. “And I’m just concerned that your bill unfortunately creates a lot more havoc potentially.”

Adams said private sellers could ask a federal firearms licensee to conduct a national background check of a potential purchaser. But he said the average person doesn’t even know the pistol permit requirement exists for a private sale or that the failure to get it is a misdemeanor.

Adams said he is committed to reducing gun violence. By ending the permit requirement, he said, “we release resources to the sheriffs’ departments to address more effective actions towards criminal behavior.”