Anything about guns is contentious in the General Assembly. Groups, on the right and the left, take positions on gun-related legislation often mischaracterizing the legislation being considered. Advocates for Second Amendment rights and advocates for gun control talk right past each other, often without any real understanding of whatever bill is being considered. The latest fight broke out over House Bill 746 [Omnibus Gun Changes], a bill which morphed over several months as its sponsors tried to get enough votes to pass it. The real hope was to garner enough votes to sustain a veto, if Governor Cooper were to veto the bill, meaning 72 votes assuming every House Member votes.
HB746 passed the House by votes of 65 to 54 on Second Reading and 64 to 51 on Third Reading. All Democratic Members opposed the bill, and all but eight Republican Members supported the bill. The bill easily passed, but it didn’t get the 72 votes to override a veto. It is unclear whether the Senate will take up the bill or whether it will amend it. The eight Republicans who voted against the bill immediately received a few hundred emails threatening them. I know because I was one of the eight Republicans.
Usually without reference to the bill itself, the e-mail writers say they were gearing up to make sure the legislator who didn’t support the bill wasn’t reelected. They often took the position that their Second Amendment rights were being abridged and that, since the Republican Party platform supports so-called “constitutional carry” that any Republicans voting against the bill weren’t real Republicans—were “RINOs” (Republicans in name only). Their position being there should be little or no regulation of guns.
Most of the emails and calls were generated by Grass Roots North Carolina, a pro-gun group to the right of the National Rifle Association. With a handful of exceptions, the emails came from outside the Members’ districts. Surprisingly the communications from Henderson County were about equally split on this issue. Gun rights activists, however, took to social media with negative comments on my Facebook page and on my Twitter feed.
The bill summary explains the bill fully, and I’ll not try to explain all of its provisions. I voted against the bill because I thought it went too far, and I heard the concerns about the bill expressed by law enforcement. The Fraternal Order of Police opposed the bill as did the NC Association of Chiefs of Police. While the NC Sheriffs’ Association did not take a formal position, many sheriffs publicly opposed the bill, while others privately communicated their concerns.
One of my primary concerns about the bill relates to how it deals with young adults under the age of 21. I find it strange that we’d extend concealed carry privileges to 18-20 year olds when we don’t allow them the privilege of drinking. Some note that 18-20 year olds can join the military and will use guns there and question why they shouldn’t be allowed to have guns as civilians. There is a big difference in my view. The military doesn’t give an 18-year old a gun without any training. If this bill becomes law, 18-, 19- and 20-year old civilians can have guns and conceal or open carry them, but there will be no training.
We allow 16-year olds to drive cars and those can be pretty dangerous, but we don’t allow them to drive without appropriate training and licensure. Again, I don’t know why we would extend gun rights to some young adults who we don’t trust with alcohol.
If enacted, HB746 will eliminate the criminal violation for carrying a concealed handgun in the state as long as the individual is a United States citizen and at least 18 years of age. It goes on to create new criminal violations for carrying concealed handguns in various circumstances. From law enforcement’s or prosecutors’ perspective, I’m told that restructuring the law in this regard will create more problems than it will solve.
Law enforcement officers told me that doing away with the concealed carry prohibition for handguns will largely eliminate the existence of reasonable suspicion officers currently use to justify searches and pat-downs of potentially armed and dangerous individuals. If it legal to carry a concealed handgun, a law enforcement officer would have fewer reasons to investigate a suspicious bulge in the jacket or pants of a potentially dangerous suspect, who the officer might encounter in the field.
My view is that dispensing with the necessity for a permit in order to carry a concealed handgun is likely to make law enforcement officers’ job more dangerous. Currently, those who carry concealed weapons go through a vetting process that aims to make sure those persons carrying concealed weapons are cleared as to any violent or felonious criminal background, mental instability or substance abuse. There will generally be no vetting process if the bill passes. Moreover, current concealed handgun permittees receive some training on gun safety, but such training would no longer be required under HB746.
Under current law, it is easy for an officer to investigate and prove an individual has violated the current law for carrying a concealed handgun without a permit. With the passage of HB746, that changes. It likely will be more difficult for an officer to determine whether an individual that he or she may encounter in the field has been convicted of a felony, is addicted to alcohol or a controlled substance, is currently or has previously been adjudicated to be a danger to self or others, was discharged from the Armed Forces under less than honorable discharge or is free on bond for certain crimes that would make it unlawful to carry concealed. The job of law enforcement officers is already hard enough, why make it harder?
As already referenced, the rhetoric around this bill bore little relationship to the legislation being considered. By voting against HB746, one wasn’t taking away anyone’s Second Amendment rights. One can open carry in most places, and it isn’t that hard to get a concealed carry permit.
Many of the emails generated presumably by Grass Roots North Carolina, asked “Whose side are you on?” My response is that I’m standing with law enforcement officials who have raised legitimate concerns about the bill. Very few of these communications came from my district, and I suspect Henderson County voters know I’ve supported gun legislation in past sessions and the summer camp that I owned for nearly two decades taught riflery to youth.
One’s First Amendments right are not absolute (one can’t scream “fire” in a full auditorium), and one’s Second Amendment right are also not absolute. For example, I don’t think one’s Second Amendment rights to carry a gun, should trample another person’s Fifth Amendment property rights. For example, if a landowner doesn’t want people with guns on his property, then there shouldn’t be guns allowed on his property.
It is all a matter of balance.
Over the past six years, I’ve supported legislation that was viewed as “pro-gun,” but I’ve also supported efforts to balance gun rights and property rights. What I found really persuasive were the communications from current concealed weapon holders. For example, one from Hendersonville wrote that she supported the current process to get a concealed weapon permit, which includes education on gun safety and gun laws and a criminal background check which includes fingerprinting. She saw no reason to lower the age from 21 to 18 to carry a concealed weapon and concluded by saying “To approve this proposed legislation defies common sense.”
Could I support HB746 if changes were made by the Senate? Perhaps, if those changes include raising the age to carry a concealed weapon and address law enforcement’s concerns. My expectation is that in a week’s time the General Assembly will adjourn. My guess is that HB746 will not pass in this year’s Long session but may get discussed in next year’s Short Session.