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NC Bill Would Allow People To Buy Handguns Without Needing A Permit

Marco Verch/Flickr

North Carolina lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow people to purchase handguns without needing to get a permit from their county's sheriff. The North Carolina Sheriffs' Association supports the bill, saying that the current permitting process is redundant and unnecessary.

Currently, anyone who wishes to purchase a handgun in North Carolina must first apply for a permit from their local sheriff's office. The office will run a background check using information from the State Bureau of Investigation, the FBI, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and the state Administrative Office of the Courts.

If the person passes the background check, they get one permit that's good to purchase a handgun within five years.

But the North Carolina Sheriffs' Association says the system is redundant because federal law already requires licensed gun dealers to perform background checks through NICS on all potential gun buyers, and NICS now contains the same information checked by local sheriff's offices.

"If they're going to run the national check anyway, there's no need for the state permit," said Eddie Caldwell, general counsel of the North Carolina Sheriffs' Association.

However, gun control advocates say if the state's permit system is repealed, then people could legally purchase handguns from private or unlicensed dealers without having to undergo a background check, and sheriff's offices would no longer have the power to deny someone a permit based on what the law refers to as "good, moral character."

For example, said Becky Ceartas with North Carolinians Against Gun Violence, if law enforcement officers were repeatedly called to a person's home for domestic disputes but no charges were ever filed, still "that sheriff may rightfully think that person shouldn't have a permit at this time."

Tony Cope with the gun control advocacy group Moms Demand Action echoed those concerns and worried that relying solely on the NICS system could allow people to slip through the cracks.

"If there have been complaints of domestic violence from that individual, but the processes around that — the restraining order, et cetera — have not been processed, those won't show up in the NICS," Cope said. "Those people won't be refused a gun at a time when they really should be."

The Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office says from July 2019 through June 2020, it denied 895 pistol permit applications, including 59 denials for good moral character. From July 2020 through April 2021, the sheriff's office denied 1,890 permit applications, including 51 for good moral character.

Caldwell said denying a permit application for good moral character requires a high legal threshold and that having law enforcement called to one's home for domestic disputes might not rise to that threshold. He said the North Carolina Sheriffs' Association maintains that repealing the state's permit system would have a "negligible impact on public safety."

The bill is under consideration by the North Carolina Senate after passing the House in May.

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Nick de la Canal is the host of Weekend Edition on Saturday/Sunday mornings, and a reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal