According to a March 14 list compiled by Guns & Ammo magazine, North Carolina ranks 17th in the “Best States for Gun Owners in 2013.” That’s higher than neighbors Tennessee (23) and Virginia (24) but beneath South Carolina (14) and Georgia (13). New legislation currently before the General Assembly, however, could nudge the state out of the middle of that pack.
Legislators have so far fired off at least 11 bills this session aimed at altering current gun laws and practices. One bill (HB 246) proposes the ultimate legal step of amending the N.C. Constitution in order to ease restrictions currently placed on persons with concealed-carry gun permits. Other bills seek to exclude handgun purchase and permit information from public scrutiny; widen the territory of legal concealed carry (including – under certain provisions — restaurants, private school grounds, and places of employment); and create qualifications for school safety marshals to provide additional public school protection. Paired bills in the House and Senate also seek to amend hunter education requirements.
The nonprofit organization Grass Roots North Carolina, a self-acknowledged pro-gun group calling for the support of most of the current bills (see NC Gun Legislation Analysis), expects at least two more significant pieces of gun legislation, according to their website.
The bills currently before the Legislature have the distinction at present of totally partisan sponsorship: every primary sponsor or listed co-sponsor is a Republican legislator. A recent poll by Elon University shades gun legislation desires somewhat differently across the state, but does find near unanimity on support for background checks with nine out of 10 people in favor (including 91 percent of Republicans).
Then the numbers slide in different directions. For example, more than half of all men statewide (56 percent) oppose bans on assault rifles. The percentage of Republicans who would support such a ban, however, is only 38 percent. To complicate such attitudes when it comes to legislating on behalf of the people of the state, the General Assembly is composed of 130 men and 40 women. In the House, 77 of 120 members are Republican; in the Senate, that proportion is 32 of 50.
Current gun bills and their Western North Carolina sponsors
SB 27: A “public school protection” bill allowing local boards of education or charter-school directors to designate certain criminal-justice trainees as school safety marshals to provide armed protection in public schools or on school grounds or other property (including buses). This would include public or private schools, community colleges, colleges and universities. Co-sponsors include Sen. Jim Davis, who represents Cherokee/Clay/Graham/Haywood/Jackson/Macon/Swain counties.
SB 28: A bill to strengthen confidentiality of gun-permit owners and applicants. Information would not be subject to public records laws but would be available to law enforcement by request and to courts by subpoena. WNC co-sponsors are Davis and Sens. Tom Apodaca of Buncombe/Henderson/Transylvania counties and Ralph Hise, Madison/McDowell/Mitchell/Polk/Rutherford/Yancey.
SB 59: Another bill establishing standards for armed security guards to provide a “safe school environment” at elementary, middle and high-school levels. Guards could be a school resource officer, school volunteer, school employee, or person otherwise qualified. Training would be administered by various county sheriff’s offices, and concealed-carry permit requirements would be waived. (No current WNC sponsors.)
SB 124: Called the “Shoot Gun from Inside” bill, this act would make it a criminal offense to “willfully or wantonly” discharge or attempt to discharge a firearm within any building, structure, motor vehicle or other conveyance or enclosure with intent to do harm or incite fear. (No current WNC sponsors.)
SB 146: Allows certain employees and volunteers at private schools to carry certain weapons on educational property, and permits concealed handgun carry on property used as both a school and a place of religious worship. WNC primary sponsor, Hise.
SB 190: Allows adults with concealed handgun permits to have a handgun on educational property provided it is in a closed container in or attached to the person’s locked vehicle, and is removed from container only for the purpose of defending the lives of the students, faculty employees, or other people against violent attack on the educational property. WNC co-sponsors, Davis and Hise.
SB 234 (see companion HB 296 below): Hunter education/apprentice permit.
HB 17: Allows concealed handguns in restaurants and eating establishments unless the establishment is posted with notice prohibiting firearms on the premises. Also provides confidentiality for concealed handgun permits and firearm purchase permits. WNC co-sponsors are Reps. Chuck McGrady, Henderson County; Tim Moffitt, Buncombe County; Michele Presnell, Haywood/Madison/Yancey.
HB 49: Allows concealed-gun permit holders to keep firearms in locked motor vehicles at places of employment. This bill also makes a business or employer liable to anyone injured as a result of any unlawful prohibition of this locked-vehicle provision.
HR 63: A resolution expressing support for “the preservation and defense of the Constitutions of the United States and the state of North Carolina,” providing specific support for the “inalienable right” to keep and bear arms and opposing “any infringement by the federal government” to guarantee that right. WNC co-sponsors, Moffitt and Presnell.
HB 246 (companion to SB 234): Proposes a Gun Rights Amendment to the N.C. Constitution, Section 30, Article 1, specifically deleting the General Assembly’s ability to enact penal statutes against carrying a concealed weapon with valid permit. Some exceptions are enumerated: courthouses, federal government building (where governmentally prohibited), on private property where the owner has posted prominent signs forbidding concealed weapons; on school campuses (unless authorized), in law enforcement or correctional facilities, and while consuming alcohol or if a legal blood test reveals alcohol or a controlled substance previously consumed—unless lawfully obtained or if the person is on his or her own property. The amendment would also forbid general confiscation of the weapons of its citizens. WNC co-sponsor, Presnell.
HB 296: Amends and clarifies hunter education and license requirements and establishes a hunting heritage apprentice permit. Requires a hunter education certificant from the Wildlife Resources Commission. Persons with a hunting/fishing license for disabled residents are exempted from the requirements so long as accompanied by a licensed adult at least 18 years of age who remains within sight and hearing distance at all times. The hunting heritage apprentice permit authorizes persons who do not meet the hunter education requirements to purchase a license and hunt if accompanied by a duly licensed adult at least 18 hears of age who maintains within sight and hearing distance at all times. WNC primary sponsor, Moffitt; co-sponsor, McGrady,
by Nelda Holder, contributing editor