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NC House May Pass Controversial Gun Bill Thursday

No concealed guns permitted on premise sign
Kevin Kniestedt

On Thursday, the North Carolina House is scheduled to take a final vote on a bill which would all but end the need for concealed-carry permits for handguns. Yesterday, the House gave its tentative approval for the measure but by a slim margin. The bill is controversial and even before debate began yesterday groups both for and against the proposal took to unusual tactics to get their message across.

First came an email blast from a group which considers itself the only 'no compromise' gun rights organization in North Carolina. It posted the photos, emails, phone numbers and some home addresses of four North Carolina lobbyists working on gun control.

Then a very different message which started with these three words. "Let us pray." That's Representative Susan Fisher. The Democrat from Asheville chose to use the daily ceremonial invocation to send a message of her own. "Giver of life and love, you created all people as one family and called us to live together in harmony and peace. Surround us with your love as we face the challenges and tragedies of gun violence."

When the Gun Bill was finally called to the floor, Republican Chris Millis, the legislation's sponsor, used an unusual tactic of his own. He began not by talking about what was in the text of the bill, but what was not. "Please note that this bill does not include any of the provisions impacting existing law involving the purchase of a firearm."

And that is true. Permits to buy a handgun from a licensed gun store would remain in effect. However, so too would the loophole for private and gun show sales where no such permit is required.

But the controversy here lies not in how a gun is bought, but how and by whom it is carried hidden from site. Again, Chris Millis. "Current law in our state allows a citizen who can legally possess a firearm, to carry that firearm openly."

Meaning in plain view, not hidden under a coat, jacket or in a purse or briefcase. For that, currently, you need a concealed carry permit from the state. And there are some exceptions even then. Private establishments, for example, can ban firearms on their property. Millis said this bill "would only allow law abiding citizens to carry concealed only in places where it is currently allowable to open carry a firearm."

But that includes nearly all public spaces.

And Millis's statement is only partially true.

The bill would also allow concealed carry in public buildings, allow legislators, their staff and sergeants at arms to carry concealed guns in legislative buildings and chambers and allow assistant district attorneys to join D.A.'s, dudges and bailiffs in carrying concealed guns in court.

For more run of the mill citizens, it would also drop the legal age to carry a concealed gun from 21 to 18. And drop all gun safety training requirements to do so.

All this, supporters said, is simply to re-establish constitutional rights that have been nibbled away.

Democrat William Richardson wasn't buying it. "Folks this isn't second amendment protection. This is absurdity."

Other Democrats agreed. Here's just one point brought up by House Minority Leader Darren Jackson. "Disgruntled taxpayers under this bill will be able to show up at the Department of Revenue with a concealed weapon. And be allowed to go up."

Since this is a broad gun bill, opponents also filed a series of amendments on everything from limiting high capacity magazines and mandatory gun locks to increasing punishments for gun crimes and limiting sales to those with domestic abuse or violent misdemeanor convictions. Those were all voted down.

But it wasn't just Democrats opposed to this bill. One of the more interesting arguments came from Republican John Faircloth. He posed this question to bill sponsor Chris Millis. "How many handguns can that person carry concealed?"

Answer – that's up to the individual.

Faircloth, who served as the chief of police in High Point for 17 years, then laid out this scenario of how this law could be used by gangs. "An 18 year old on a public street, or a sidewalk, or a friend's front yard, could carry half a dozen handguns in a backpack or in a satchel of some kind, standing close by where the gang gathers so that firearms are at ready use if gang activities lead to violence."

Or, if that hypothetical 18 year old was legally allowed to carry these guns, they could also shield gang members from gun charges.

This is one reason, opponents of the bill noted, that some law enforcement groups like the Fraternal Order of Police are against the measure.  

In the end, the vote yesterday was close. 65 to 54 with eight Republicans joining the all the House Democrats in opposing the bill. If that margin holds today the bill would then move onto the Senate. But that 11 vote margin would not be enough to override a potential veto from the governor.

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