That is the subject line of several hundred emails that legislators received over the past several days. In fact, they are still coming in, even though the bill, House Bill 562 [Amend Firearm Laws], passed the House yesterday on a bipartisan vote of 78-37, with all Republicans and a handful of Democrats supporting the bill. The bill passed after votes on 15 amendments, and the reaction to the bill’s passage was what I expected.
A local Tea Party leader declared that “HB562 is a violation of our 2nd amendment rights and the whole bill should be trashed.” Meanwhile, some Democratic legislators and liberal bloggers said the bill “increase(s) risk of gun violence on school grounds,” “would create plenty of jobs for morticians,” and “puts more guns in the hands of dangerous criminals and would lead to more violent crime.”
One would have hoped that the arguments on the floor would have helped educate the public on the bill, but the arguments weren’t always helpful. At one point, Representative David Lewis (who was chairing at the time) had to rebuke a Member whose argument was disparaging other Members, and he also had to remind House Members to stop referring to the other side of the debate as “you people.”
What never ceases to amaze me is that legislators make arguments in support of their positions that actually result in changing people’s votes against these legislator’s positions. I really don’t believe members of the Black Caucus were swayed by references to the pistol permit provision as being a “Jim Crow law.” Similarly, I doubt any legislators were swayed by arguments that used biblical references to argue for the bill. Those arguments only made me wonder whether they thought that Jesus Christ, had he lived in modern times, if he would have been packing a gun. And more than one Member wanted to tie the bill to police shootings in other states — another argument that might provide nice sound bites but didn’t have much if anything to do with the bill. I’m sure if we’d debated the bill today, we’d have been talking about the shooting in Charleston.
So what were the major issues of House Bill 562?
The original bill took the responsibility for doing background checks for pistol purchase permits away from sheriffs and relied on a national database. An amendment initially passed by a vote of 77-38 that put that responsibility back with sheriffs. A perfecting amendment subsequently passed by a vote of 75-40, and I supported those amendments.
Guns at the Legislature
The original bill allowed legislators and legislative staff to get concealed weapons permits and carry guns in the legislative building. An amendment stripped that provision from the bill by a vote of 69-44, and I voted for the amendment.
Guns and Doctors
The sponsors of the bill objected to medical providers asking patients about gun possession or ownership, and the original bill basically wouldn’t have allowed any questions to be asked. Medical providers, primarily doctors, argued that guns were the leading cause of most childhood deaths and sometimes they needed to know whether a gun was in the possession of a patient who was mentally unstable. The revised bill was a compromise that allowed a doctor to ask about guns, but the patient had to be advised that he or she didn’t need to respond to that question. An amendment to strip out the compromise language and simply not address the issue passed by a vote of 61 to 51. I voted no on the amendment since I’d worked to try to put in place the compromise language and felt some responsibility to all parties to honor the agreement that was struck.
Study Background Checks More Accurate
The House adopted an amendment to study ways of making background checks more accurate. One would think just studying the issue of background checks wouldn’t be that controversial, but even that amendment was debated at length and passed by a vote of 68-46. I voted for the amendment.
Lifetime Ban on Concealed Weapons for
Persons Convicted of Certain Crimes
While current law bars people convicted of certain violent crimes, including some misdemeanors, from getting concealed weapons permits, the bill changed that to a three-year ban for all misdemeanors. An amendment passed rather easily, 87-26, to keep the lifetime ban for crimes such as stalking and some crimes involving domestic violence. I voted for the amendment.
Other measures in the bill include a provision authorizing the Commissioner of Agriculture to prohibit the carrying of firearms on the State Fairgrounds during the State Fair but not allowing such a prohibition at the Mountain State Fair outside Asheville. The bill allows a person to carry a pocketknife into the Old State Capitol Building, and the bill also allows persons with concealed gun permits who are carrying concealed handguns on educational property to move any handgun from concealment to a closed compartment in a car, for example. Under the bill, District Attorneys will now be allowed to carry concealed weapons in court.
As one can tell from these latter provisions, the bill has a lot of very detailed provisions related to guns, and the proponents of the legislation were quite intent upon passing legislation that clarifies the rights of gun owners.
What I found fascinating was that the proponents of the bill were told by leadership that one or more of the significant amendments noted above would likely pass, and they were asked whether they would be willing to compromise in some fashion. While compromises were struck on some issues, other issues couldn’t be resolved, for example on the issue of who should do background checks. When faced with very different views on some of the details of this legislation, House leaders decided to simply let the process play out. Democrats almost always supported amendments while Republicans split over some number of the amendments.
While the House completed work on the gun bill, the Senate completed work on its budget. Beginning next week, House and Senate leaders will begin the process of trying to agree on a state budget. There is no expectation that a budget agreement can be reached before the end of the fiscal year, so a bill will be introduced to extend the current budget in some form while negotiations continue.
When asked today when I expect we’ll have a budget agreement, I told a reporter that I expected to be here until Labor Day. The Senate has included its tax reform proposal and important policy issues, including health care and education policy, in the budget. The House hadn’t seen the Senate’s proposals until they appeared last week in the budget [Editor’s Note: Click here for a comprehensive report comparing the House and Senate versions of the proposed budget, as prepared by the non-partisan Fiscal Research staff] so it is going to take some time before any sort of agreement can be reached. I’m guessing I’m going to buy some seersucker suits this weekend when I’m home, since I expect I’ll be here for another two months or more trying to reconcile the budgets adopted by the two chambers.