A bill to end North Carolina’s pistol purchase permit system passed the state Senate and is now in the hands of the House. Currently, people who want to buy a handgun have to either have a conceal-carry permit or get a permit from the county sheriff.

The bill makes several other changes to state gun laws, including allowing handguns on school property where religious services are being held. It also includes a section launching a new state campaign on safe gun storage and distributing free gun locks.

Senate Bill 41, titled Guarantee 2nd Amend Freedom and Protections, passed the Senate Feb. 16 on a party-line vote. Republicans have a veto-proof majority in the Senate and are one vote shy of a supermajority in the House.

Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a similar bill last year that would have done away with the pistol permit system.

Democrats proposed several amendments to the bill before it passed, including universal background checks for gun sales.

Pistol permit repeal

North Carolina law currently says anyone who wants to buy a pistol from a licensed dealer or a private sale has to get a permit from the sheriff’s office in their county.

Before giving out a permit, the sheriff’s office has to do a national criminal background check, a state criminal history check, “determine the applicant's good moral character” and “determine that the possession of the weapon is for only certain identified purposes,” according to state law.

When someone gets a permit and goes to buy a gun, a licensed dealer has to run another national criminal check. But no background check is required for a “private sale” when one person sells a gun to another.

Under the bill, licensed dealers would have to do their own national criminal background check before selling a handgun. There would be no state background check that could turn up things like domestic violence prosecutions that are labeled as “simple assault” or a similar charge.

There would be no background checks for private handgun sales.

“For decades, the Pistol Purchase Permitting system - run by our sheriffs - has been part of the backbone of public safety in the state. Sheriffs have kept untold numbers of handguns out of the hands of domestic abusers, minors, convicted felons, and people experiencing mental health crises,” said Becky Ceartas with North Carolinians Against Gun Violence.

“There is little doubt that repeal of the Pistol Purchase Permitting system will increase gun violence in North Carolina precisely because it ties the hands of our sheriffs to deny gun permits to people they know to be dangerous,” she said in a statement.

But many conservatives applauded the Senate passage of the bill.

“The pistol purchase permit repeal, if enacted, will prevent urban sheriffs from abusing the system by arbitrarily denying lawful citizens the ability to buy handguns for self-protection. As an enhancement to public safety, it will mean that background checks for handgun purchases from dealers will be done at the time and point of sale rather than up to five years earlier as they are now,” Grass Roots North Carolina, a pro-gun organization, said in a statement.

Handguns on school property

Current law does not allow guns on school grounds, including private and religious schools. The bill would create a new exception to the ban, allowing people with concealed carry permits to bring guns on school property during religious services.

The exception would not include public school property owned by a county or any college or university. Guns would not be allowed on school property during school hours.

This would mainly be for religious schools that hold services at a school. Institutions could still ban guns by posting signs forbidding weapons on the property.

“The provision to allow concealed carry in churches which sponsor schools is widely supported by pastors, several of which testified in favor of the legislation to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Under current law, otherwise lawful concealed carry becomes a Class I felony if the church sponsors a school,” Grass Roots N.C. said in a statement.

Pistols on police property

North Carolina law only allows sworn law enforcement to carry guns in a correctional facility, police department or sheriff’s office.

The proposal would allow the head of a law enforcement organization to give permission to employees who are not officers to carry a gun in the building. The employee would have to have a concealed carry permit.

Safe storage

The bill includes a proposal for a two-year educational campaign for safe gun storage and distributing gun locks.

If passed, the bill would direct the North Carolina Department of Public Safety to work with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Wildlife Resources Commission to develop a program on safe gun storage. The state departments would also work together to distribute gun locks.

What’s next

The bill passed the North Carolina Senate with a veto-proof majority. There are already bills in the North Carolina House that would do away with the pistol permit requirement.

House Bill 101, titled The Firearms Liberty Act, was filed just days before the Senate passed its bill and is very similar. It does not have the safe storage section included in the Senate bill. It adds a provision to give people more time to renew a concealed carry permit if it expires.

The House bill also has a section allowing people who had to surrender their guns, because of emergency court orders for things like making threats or threatening to kill themselves, to sell those guns through a licensed dealer.

Members of the House could take up their version of the bill as soon as this week. 

The governor has vetoed similar bills before, but Republicans in the General Assembly have a near veto-proof majority since the last elections. If the legislation passes and Cooper vetoes it, it is possible GOP lawmakers could get enough votes to override the governor.