Hours after Michigan shooting, North Carolina Republicans advance bills to loosen state gun laws

By: - February 15, 2023 6:00 am

Senator Danny Britt (R)

Sen. Danny Britt (R) and Sen. Bobby Hanig (L) advocate for loosening some gun restrictions. (Photo: Screen grab livestream)

GOP lawmakers have passed similar legislation expanding gun access in past legislative sessions. This time, they might have the votes to override the governor’s veto.

Hours after three students at Michigan State University were killed by a man who ultimately turned his gun on himself, North Carolina Republicans unveiled several bills Tuesday aimed at making it easier for people to acquire and wield firearms.

“These are commonsense gun legislation bills,” Sen. Danny Britt, Jr. (R-Hoke, Robeson, Scotland), said during a press conference.

The Senate Judiciary Committee considered three bills Tuesday: Senate Bills 40, 41 and 67. Those proposals would repeal the pistol purchase permit required to obtain a firearm in North Carolina, allow people with a concealed carry license to bring their weapon into a house of worship that has a school on its property, and launch a voluntary two-year statewide firearm safe storage awareness initiative.

Senators combined the bills into one piece of legislation before advancing it out of committee.

The House and Senate have passed versions of the Pistol Purchase Permit Repeal and the “Protect Religious Meeting Places” bills in prior legislative sessions. Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed those measures when they reached his desk. But thanks to gains in the midterm elections, Republicans could have the votes to override a new veto.

Republicans challenged their Democratic colleagues to vote with them on the proposals, arguing that some of them campaigned on “commonsense gun reform.” Asked why it was common sense to ease access to firearms by eliminating a regulatory hurdle, Britt replied that the bills would still bar people with criminal records from obtaining guns, because those individuals would still be barred from legally acquiring a firearm thanks to a federal background check they have to clear before acquiring the weapon.

“What we’re doing is we’re making it easier for legal, law-abiding citizens to go out and purchase a firearm to protect themselves,” Britt said.

Republicans framed the pistol permit repeal as a racial justice measure, stating that the law was passed in the Jim Crow Era to restrict Black people from acquiring a handgun. They claimed that the spirit of that discrimination lives on, citing a Wake County statistic that three times as many people of color were denied pistol purchase permits than other segments of the population.

“I see you’re laughing, but it is a very serious deal coming from one of the most racially diverse counties in the state,” Britt said. “It is very important to me that these folks are not discriminated against.”

The religious meeting places bill, meanwhile, would “close a loophole that shouldn’t exist,” said Sen. Warren Daniel (R-Buncombe, Burke, McDowell). Most churches in North Carolina are allowed to decide whether firearms are allowed on their grounds, except for those that have a school on their property.

“To be clear, this bill will not allow for firearms to be brought into these spaces during school hours or on any public school property,” Daniel said.

The Rev. Ron Baity, the pastor of a church in Winston-Salem, said the proposal would make churches safer.

“Shooters choose gun-free zones because they’re easy targets where they can do maximum damage in the least amount of time” he said. “Cowards go where there are no deterrents.”

The third proposal would allow state agencies to launch a voluntary two-year firearm safe storage awareness program. That program would disseminate information on the safe storage of guns, share links to webpages on domestic violence, hunter education, and suicide prevention, and provide contact information so people can acquire free gun locks.

“We want the public to know what options there are for safe storage of firearms. It’s that simple,” said Sen. Bobby Hanig, a Republican representing 10 eastern counties.

Anticipating criticism of the measures, Sen. Jim Perry (R-Beaufort, Craven, Lenoir), said there tend to be a lot of “amateur sheriffs out running around” when bills of this sort are introduced.

“If this was something that was going to put everyone in some type of great harm, I think this room would be filled right now with sheriffs from every county,” Perry said. “And that’s just not the case.”

House Committee backs the proposals

Shortly afterward, a House judiciary committee advanced its own version of the pistol permit repeal and the protect churches proposal. Marcus Bass, the deputy director of the North Carolina Black Alliance, opposed the pistol permit repeal because he said the permits prevent homicides and suicides. He said Black and Latinx North Carolinians bore a disproportionate brunt of homicide deaths across the state.

“This violence is a result of societal and systemic factors, which are compounded by firearms that are often trafficked in most-impacted neighborhoods,” Bass said. “In this case, we believe the state’s current pistol purchasing permit helps to prevent the diversion of illegal firearms in the communities most suffering from gun violence.”

Rep. Jeff McNeely (R-Iredell), said the goal of the protect religious meeting places bill was simple: “We’re just enforcing your constitutional rights.”

Several members of the public volunteered their thoughts on the bill. The Rev. Jennifer Copeland, from the North Carolina Council of Churches, opposed it.

Paul Valone, Grassroots North Carolina

“We want to talk about people who put their hand in the till of the gun lobby fund, and then cause harm to the vulnerable people of North Carolina,” Copeland said. “I come from a tradition where God has some strong words to say about those who take money in the effort to create harm.”

Several of the members of the public who testified invoked past slaughters that were carried out with guns. Mitchell Pinsky, a volunteer with North Carolina Students Demand Action, recalled the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, 10 minutes from where his parents live.

“Students huddled in their classrooms as bullets ricocheted in the hallways, only to pass over the bloody dead bodies of their peers,” Pinsky said. “Unfortunately, this is what happens when we pass reckless gun laws. If we pass these bills, there will only be more gun violence.”

Paul Valone, the president of Grassroots North Carolina, which lobbies for looser gun laws, spoke after Pinsky. He, too, recalled a recent mass shooting: the one in Michigan, a day prior.

“What we saw yesterday was yet another example of a gun-free zone attracting a violent sociopath,” Valone said. “We’ve seen it over and over again. Our goal is to shut down those gun-free zones, and make sure people can protect themselves.”

Bonus video: Jessica Burroughs of North Carolina MomsRising speaks against the Pistol Purchase Permit Repeal

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Kelan Lyons
Kelan Lyons

Investigative Reporter Kelan Lyons writes about criminal and civil justice, including high-profile litigation, prison and jail conditions, housing, and the challenges people face when they leave prison.

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