N.C. Republicans Vote To Repeal Jim Crow-Era Gun Control Law

AP Photo/David Goldman

The fight over a 100-year old gun control law that allows sheriffs in North Carolina to deny handgun purchases by those they deem “unsuitable” has reached the governor’s desk, after the Republican-controlled state Senate approved a measure to repeal the law over the objections of many Democrats.

In fact, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper is expected to veto the repeal of the state’s pistol purchase permit law, despite the fact that even the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association has come out in favor of taking the law off the books.

“This law is simply just ineffective,” Sen. Chuck Edwards, a Henderson County Republican, said during floor debate. “This law is archaic and it’s duplicative.”

But the national background check wouldn’t be required in a private sale between two individuals — in contrast to current law, in which the purchaser needs a permit from a sheriff. While bill sponsors said most people don’t know they need a permit in such a transaction, opponents of the measure say it would create a large loophole that would allow weapons to be purchased freely.

“This bill would remove one of the few protections that we currently have in place to stop dangerous people from buying handguns,” said Sen. Natasha Marcus, a Mecklenburg County Democrat.

Cooper’s office didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the bill. Attorney General Josh Stein, also a Democrat, asked legislators earlier this week to consider “the serious threat to public safety this legislation carries and reject it.”

Let’s be clear here: there is no threat to public safety by repealing the permit to purchase law. North Carolina is one of just a handful of states that still have this remnant of the Jim Crow era on the books, and there’s no evidence that giving sheriffs the authority to block someone from purchasing a handgun because of some undefined “unsuitability” has made the state any safer. In 2019, North Carolina’s violent crime rate was 371.8 per 100,000 people, and its murder rate was 6 per 100k. In neighboring Virginia, which does not have a permit to purchase law, the violent crime rate was 208 per 100k with a homicide rate of 5 per 100k.

As for the idea that without the pistol purchase permit, individuals might be able to acquire a handgun in a private sale without going through a background check, do the Democrats and gun control activists still willing to support this relic of Jim Crow honestly believe that violent criminals in North Carolina are seeking permission from their local sheriff to buy a gun right now? It’s absurd to believe that this law is somehow thwarting criminals. Instead, it’s very likely creating criminals, especially since we’ve seen long delays in issuing those permits in some counties since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. When people are forced to wait for months on end for permission to exercise a constitutionally protected right, it stands to reason that some of them are going to risk breaking the law in order to protect themselves.

In fact, the Wake County sheriff was recently ordered to pay $26,000 over delays in issuing those permits. The Second Amendment Foundation, Grass Roots NC, and the Firearms Policy Coalition, along with several individual plaintiffs, brought suit against Sheriff Gerald Baker over the lengthy delays last year, and a federal judge sided with gun owners in allowing the case to proceed to trial. Instead of defending the delays in court, Baker’s office decided to settle with the plaintiffs, but another lawsuit has recently been filed against the sheriff in Mecklenburg County over the same issue.

There are many reasons to scrap the pistol purchase permit law; from the racist intent of those who originally put the law in place, the fact that even today black applicants are far more likely to be denied a pistol purchase permit than white applicants, and the undeniable reality that many sheriffs can’t or won’t process the permit applications in the time allotted to them under state law.

As for the reasons to keep the law in place, there’s really only one: Democrats and the gun control lobby want it. Personally, I think the harms far outweigh the benefit of keeping the law in place, but something tells me that North Carolina’s governor is going to see it differently.