North Carolina bill waiving pistol permit mandate heads for Cooper's desk

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The North Carolina Senate approved a bill Wednesday that would make it easier for North Carolinians to obtain a firearm.

House Bill 398 would repeal the requirement to obtain a pistol purchase permit from a sheriff's office before purchasing or transferring a pistol. Sponsors of HB 398 said it would eliminate an unnecessary step in the pistol permit process.

Under current law, a person who wishes to purchase a handgun from a retailer must obtain a pistol permit from their local sheriff's office. The sheriff must conduct a background check through the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and an additional criminal history check through the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Court. Federal law, however, requires federal firearms licensees to also conduct a criminal background check through NICS. The North Carolina Sheriffs' Association supports the bill, which it said is archaic.

Sen. Chuck Edwards, R–Henderson, said the law, passed in 1919, was used during the Jim Crow Era to stop Black residents from obtaining purchase permits.

“It's been brought to my attention that this requirement is racist,” Edwards said. “Recent North Carolina Law Review shows that in Wake County alone, for example, 23% of Black applicants were denied permits between 2015 and [2020], but only 8% of whites, a rejection rate for Blacks, which is three times higher than whites.”

The Senate approved the measure, 27-20, on Wednesday. The House voted 69-48 on May 5 to approve the measure. It now heads to Gov. Roy Cooper for approval.

Sen. Natasha Marcus, D-Mecklenburg, said she opposed the bill Wednesday because it removes the last layer of protection to stop “dangerous people from buying guns.” She said it would create a loophole for criminals or people with mental health disorders to get the weapons.

“The pistol purchase permit system is not duplicative,” Marcus said. “It is the only background check currently required to buy a handgun from an unlicensed seller, like the thousands of individuals who advertise on the internet or who sell at gun shows.”

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