North Carolinians wanting to exercise their Second Amendment right to own a handgun will still be required to get pre-approval from their county sheriff, thanks to North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a bill that would have repealed the 102-year old law. The state’s pistol purchase permit requirement was put in place in 1919, at the height of the Jim Crow era, and has been used ever since as a way to keep those deemed “unsuitable” by sheriffs from legally acquiring a pistol. Even if an applicant is legally eligible to purchase a firearm, sheriffs can prevent them from lawfully owning a handgun based solely on whatever subjective criteria they choose.
Even today, there’s evidence that the law is keeping a disproportionate number of black residents from their Second Amendment rights, with one researcher publishing a report earlier this year that found black applicants for a pistol purchase permit in Wake County are almost three times as likely to be denied a PPP compared to white applicants. But despite the law’s racist past, its discriminatory present, and even the North Carolina Sheriffs Association’s support of its repeal, Gov. Cooper chose to cling to the law and keep it in place.
“Gun permit laws reduce gun homicides and suicides and reduce the availability of guns for criminal activity,” Cooper said in a statement. “At a time of rising gun violence, we cannot afford to repeal a system that works to save lives. The legislature should focus on combating gun violence instead of making it easier for guns to end up in the wrong hands.”
Does the pistol purchase permit law really reduce homicide? I would think if that were true we wouldn’t be seeing a 350% increase in homicides in High Point, North Carolina this year, or Fayetteville, North Carolina poised to break its all-time high for homicides. Charlotte set a new record for homicides in 2020, and is on track to outpace last year’s total by the time 2021 draws to a close. As for suicides, the rate has been trending upwards over the last five years, which indicates the state’s pistol purchase permit isn’t doing much at all to save lives. It also begs the question of just who Cooper has in mind when he talks about guns ending up “in the wrong hands.”
Sen. Chuck Edwards, a Henderson County Republican said, “Pistol purchase permits were created by Jim Crow Democrats to keep guns away from black people, and data shows that black applicants are still rejected at a higher rate than white applicants.”
“In any other context, Democrats would view these facts and allege ‘systemic racism.’ That they refuse to do so on this issue is yet more evidence that they selectively wield such accusations for political ends,” Edwards said.
He’s not wrong, though gun control supporters claim Republicans are bringing up the disparate impact of the pistol purchase permit law to score cheap political points. I happen to disagree, but even leaving the racially charged history and the current disproportionate effect of the law on black applicants, there are plenty of reasons to push for the law’s repeal.
House Speaker Tim Moore, a Republican, noted in a statement the overload of pistol permit applications to sheriffs during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
“This bill would have provided an avenue for those individuals,” Moore said.
“To deny North Carolinians a path to obtain that measure of personal protection is to deny a fundamental constitutional right. Governor Cooper is playing politics with our Second Amendment rights,” he said.
Several sheriffs have been sued over the long delays in processing pistol purchase permit applications, with one sheriff recently choosing to settle litigation that was filed after he suspended the application process over COVID concerns last year.
None of that mattered to Roy Cooper, who bent his knee to the gun control lobby and vetoed the pistol purchase permit repeal even after the state’s sheriffs association came out and endorsed the legislation to end the practice. It’s a despicable move by the governor, and one that I hope gun owners and voters will not quickly forget.