NC Democrats, Activists Defend Jim Crow-Era Gun Control Law

AP Photo/David Goldman

The fight over North Carolina’s pistol purchase permit laws is seeing new life, with Republicans in the state Senate picking up legislation that would repeal the Jim Crow-era gun control law that requires would-be handgun owners to first obtain the approval of their local sheriff before being legally allowed to buy a pistol. The North Carolina House of Representatives approved the measure earlier this year, and Tuesday the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to follow suit, though the bill needs at least one more committee vote before being discharged to the Senate floor.

Despite the fact that the North Carolina Sheriffs Association is in favor of doing away with the permit to purchase, many Democratic state senators are fighting to keep the racist gun control law in place.

Some Senate Democrats on the committee said the measure would take away a key tool that sheriffs have to block gun access for some residents, thus preventing violence and deaths.

Current law demands that a sheriff determine whether an applicant is of good moral character and if the person plans to use the weapon for a lawful purpose. People convicted of felonies and other crimes can’t be issued permits.

Eliminating the pistol purchase permit requirement would in turn end the current requirement that an individual get a permit before buying a pistol from another individual in a private sale. That would create an “outrageously large loophole,” said Sen. Natasha Marcus, a Mecklenburg County Democrat. She said her county’s sheriff didn’t request the change.

That’s not a “loophole.” It’s just the law, and if Marcus and her fellow Democrats want to impose a universal background check requirement on all gun sales in the state, she should write and sponsor a bill to do that. As it stands, no permit-to-purchase is required for long guns in North Carolina, so the removal of the pistol purchase permit would simply provide a uniform standard for all firearms across the state.

“Our country has seen constantly … a number of mass shootings, all types of gun violence,” said Sen. Mujtaba Mohammed, another Mecklenburg Democrat. “And I’m just concerned that your bill unfortunately creates a lot more havoc potentially.”

And what about the havoc created by the pistol purchase permit itself? Earlier this year a study of the law found that the racist roots of the law appear to be alive and well today, with Black applicants in Wake County nearly three times as likely to be denied a permit to purchase a handgun than White applicants.

In practice, the Wake County Sheriff’s Office rejected 8.37% of White applicants, while rejecting 23.54% of Black applicants. This amounts to Black applicants experiencing a rejection rate of approximately three times the rate of White applicants. Given Wake County’s similar racial composition to that of North Carolina as a whole, Wake County potentially represents statewide trends. But while this data is certainly striking, the conclusions from it are limited. Without further research into the reasons for permit denials broken down by race, as well as data from all counties in North Carolina, definitive conclusions regarding racial biases present in the modern permit system are speculative. However, at a minimum, this data demonstrates the urgency for further investigation into this issue.

In addition to the disproportionate number of Black applicants who were denied their pistol purchase permit, the report also pointed out that sheriffs have delayed issuing purchase permits during the pandemic; imposing bureaucratic delays on the exercise of a constitutionally protected right.

A more recent example of the wanton implementation of the North Carolina permit system is Wake County Sherriff Baker (seemingly independently) announcing that the sheriff’s office would no longer be accepting applications due to backlog. After several lawsuits were filed, Sherriff Baker ultimately reopened the application process, though more recent lawsuits have been filed over the significant delay in approving permits. In Wake County, permit approvals can take as long as five weeks.  By comparison, turnaround times for permits in Nash and Johnston Counties are “just a few days.”

Just last week Grass Roots NC and Gun Owners of America filed suit over the lengthy delays for both pistol purchase permits and concealed carry licenses in Mecklenburg County, but lawmakers could moot the legal challenge if the pistol purchase permit law is repealed.

Frankly, the state’s pistol purchase permit law never should have been enacted in the first place, and was only put in place in an attempt to deprive Black citizens of their Second Amendment rights. Gun control activists today may claim that the law is a valuable crime-fighting tool, but that report I mentioned also documents the fact that violent crime rates and the percentage of murders using handguns are actually higher in states with permit-to-purchase laws on the books than in the vast majority of states that don’t require a special permission slip from sheriffs before lawfully buying a pistol.

The law doesn’t make anyone safer, but does make it more difficult for Black residents to exercise their Second Amendment rights. It’s hard to believe that even gun control activists would be fighting to keep this law on the books, but it sure looks like they’re willing to go to the mat to keep this relic of Jim Crow in place.