RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina's long practice of county sheriffs granting permits to local residents before they can buy a handgun would end under legislation approved by the House on Wednesday night.
The North Carolina Sheriffs' Association backed the pistol purchase permit repeal — a change in direction for the group after years of opposing the idea. Sheriffs would still perform reviews of applications for concealed weapons permits.
Under federal law, licensed gun dealers are required to perform national instant background checks before a person can purchase or receive a handgun. People convicted of certain crimes or under indictment can be prevented from purchasing a gun.
The sheriffs' group and bill supporters say the records contained in the background check database have become more robust in recent years, particularly as it related to involuntarily commitments for mental health or substance abuse treatment.
Improvements to the background check system “have rendered the pistol purchase permit obsolete” and duplicative, Eddie Caldwell, the sheriffs' association executive vice president, said as quoted in a news release from House Republicans.
The repeal proposal comes as sheriffs in some urban counties were overloaded by purchase permit requests last year during the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to months-long delays even now, said Republican Rep. Jay Adams from Catawba County, a bill sponsor.
“The permitting system does take away resources available to the sheriff’s department,” Adams said before the bill passed by a largely party-line vote of 69-48. “This restores those capabilities.”
Gun control advocates opposed the repeal, saying the permit program has prevented applicants otherwise barred by law to obtain weapons from getting them. The process directs a sheriff to conduct a criminal background check, consider whether an applicant is of good moral character and if the person plans to use the weapon for a lawful purpose.
“For over 100 years we have had a pistol permit purchase permit in North Carolina. It has saved lives,” said Rep. Marcia Morey, a Durham County Democrat. "It has worked. There is no reason to take this away in North Carolina.”
Permits already aren’t required if someone wants to purchase a rifle. A concealed weapons permit already can be a substitute for the handgun purchase permit.
The end of the pistol purchase system would eliminate a requirement that an individual get a permit before buying a pistol from another individual. Adams said last month nothing would prevent an individual from asking a federal firearms licensee to conduct a national background check.
Shannon Klug with North Carolina Moms Demand Action, a gun control group, said in a news release the bill “will make it easier for domestic abusers and people with dangerous histories to purchase firearms with no background check and no questions asked.”
The bill now heads to the Senate. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who would be asked to sign any bill into law, has supported gun restrictions in the wake of mass shootings in recent years.