North Carolina House passes gun bill with bipartisan support

Published 11:55 pm Wednesday, February 15, 2023

By Hannah Schoenbaum
Associated Press/Report for America

RALEIGH — North Carolina House Republicans and some Democrats passed a previously vetoed gun bill Wednesday that opponents warn could endanger children and teachers.

The House voted 77-43 to approve the measure, which would let people with concealed weapons permits carry openly or under clothing while attending religious services at locations where private or charter schools also meet.

Six Democrats joined all Republicans in voting for it, indicating a potential override of any veto by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who blocked an identical bill in 2021.

Republican lawmakers and several clergy members testified this week that the houses of worship in question do not have an equal opportunity to protect congregants, compared with churches that do not house schools and are not affected by blanket prohibitions.

Supporters said gun-free religious sites could be easy targets for violent attacks, citing recent incidents of shooters targeting congregations.

Rep. Jeff McNeely, an Iredell County Republican and the bill’s primary sponsor, said the proposal would fix a loophole preventing some churchgoers from exercising their Second Amendment rights.

“They should be able to protect their selves like all other parishioners do at other churches who do not have schools on their grounds,” he said.

Under the bill, guns would not be permitted on campus during school hours or when students are present for extracurricular activities. Houses of worship could opt out by posting signs banning guns from the property.

Democratic opponents of the measure said gun owners might not understand those restrictions or could accidentally leave their weapons on campus.

“What I don’t want to see happen is a lawful gun owner leaving their gun in the classroom on a Sunday after church and that gun being found by a student on a Monday,” Rep. Terry Brown Jr., a Mecklenburg County Democrat, said during floor debate.

Another previously vetoed House bill that could receive a floor vote this week would eliminate a longstanding requirement that handgun buyers first obtain a permit from their county sheriff.

Also Wednesday, a House judiciary committee advanced a bipartisan proposal that would launch a two-year education campaign on safe firearms storage and also distribute free gun locks. It now heads to the Rules Committee.

In the Senate, three identical companion bills were combined Tuesday into a single piece of legislation that is expected to reach the floor this week. It is unclear whether the Senate will take up the stand-alone bill passed by the House or move forward with its combined proposal.