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With Democrats absent, NC House overrides governor's gun bill veto

Image of the North Carolina State Legislature Building in Raleigh.
Wikimedia Commons
The N.C. House voted to override Gov. Roy Cooper's veto of a handgun permitting bill without allowing debate on Wednesday morning.

The N.C. House voted Wednesday morning to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a controversial gun bill. It’s Republicans’ first veto override since 2018.

The move repeals a longstanding requirement that handgun buyers get a permit and background checks from their local sheriff. Republicans say the requirement is unnecessary and leads to long wait times to get a permit, but opponents say repealing the law would make it easier for dangerous people to buy guns.

The bill also would allow guns on private school campuses when the facilities host church services, and school isn't in session.

The GOP is one vote short of a veto-proof majority in the House. But while all Democrats on the floor voted to back the governor’s veto, three moderate Democrats were absent from the session. That gave Republicans a three-fifths majority to make the bill become law.

House Democratic Leader Robert Reives was upset that House leaders didn’t allow any debate on the measure Wednesday. He noted that it came just days after the Nashville school shooting, where six people — including three children — were killed. There have been 130 mass shootings in the U.S. so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

"The world has changed since we debated this issue," Reives told reporters after the vote. "What the world has done has shown us ... our children aren't safe. And the only thing this bill did is it made it easier for people with mental health issues to get guns, it made it easier for domestic abusers to get guns."

Republican Rep. Destin Hall defended the lack of debate, which was an unusual move for the House. "Members have heard all the pros and all the cons that members may want to hear about this bill," he said.

Democratic Reps. Shelly Willingham, of Rocky Mount, and Marvin Lucas, of Fayetteville, had voted for the bill when it first passed the House. But they voted against it on Wednesday. The absent Democrats were Reps. Cecil Brockman (D-Guilford), Tricia Cotham, (D-Mecklenburg) and Michael Wray (D-Northampton). Wray had previously supported the bill.

Reives told reporters that House leaders had given ample advance notice of the 9:30 a.m. scheduled vote, and he wasn't sure why three of his colleagues were missing. He said he expected to see them later in the day.

"I have no idea why anybody that wasn't here wasn't here," he said. "What I know is that every Democrat on this floor voted to try to stop that override today."

Reives said Lucas, who’d previously voted for the bill, changed his mind after the Nashville school shooting.

"He put his surgery off to be here for this veto vote today — Marvin deserved to be heard," he said. "He deserved to be able to say, 'Guys, I voted for this bill. But here's the reason I'm not voting for the bill today.'"

Wednesday's vote signals that Gov. Cooper could have a difficult time keeping his party together to uphold his vetoes for the remainder of the session. And more controversial legislation on school curriculum, LGBTQ issues and abortion likely lies ahead as the legislative session continues.

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Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.