Repeal of North Carolina’s “permit-to-purchase” law has been a top priority for Second Amendment advocates in the state for several years, though Gov. Roy Cooper has stymied their efforts by vetoing a repeal bill back in 2021.
This year, thanks to an expanded majority in both chambers, Republicans are trying again. House members have approved standalone legislation repealing the law giving sheriffs broad discretion in deciding who gets to legally purchase a handgun, while the state Senate included repeal in a broader package that also allows for concealed carry in churches and worship centers that share space with private or charter schools and establishes a two-year firearm storage public awareness campaign.
Both measures cleared their house of origin by large margins, but that doesn’t mean that repeal is guaranteed. In order to override Cooper’s expected veto Republicans are going to need at least one Democrat to sign on in the House, and it sounds like Cooper has started twisting arms behind the scenes.
Senate Republicans now hold a supermajority necessary to override a gubernatorial veto, while Republicans in the House came one vote shy of that threshold in the November election.
HB 50’s single Democratic co-sponsor, Rep. Michael Wray of Northampton County, told the media he decided to vote against the bill on Wednesday after consulting with sheriffs in his district.
SB 41 is currently in the Committee on Rules, Calendar, and Operations of the House, while HB 50 has not yet been referred to a Senate committee.
House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, recently told reporters that while he believes discussions should continue with Democrats to court support for repeal, the lower chamber could simply adopt SB 41.
Could they, though? If Wray is opposed to HB 50, is there any reason to believe that he would support SB 41 instead given that it too repeals the “permit-to-purchase” statute? And if he doesn’t back the Senate bill, aren’t Republicans still going to be one vote shy of a veto override?
There were several Democratic legislators who didn’t cast a vote on HB 50 when it was approved by the House last week, so it’s possible that one of them could sign on, but given that none of them were sponsors of the legislation that seems unlikely.
As for Wray’s newfound opposition to repeal, I find it hard to believe that it was a conversation with a local sheriff that changed his mind. Remember, repeal came up two years ago as well, and Wray was one of a handful of Democrats voting in favor at the time. For two years the lawmaker has supported scrapping the Jim Crow-era gun control law, but suddenly decided to reverse course just before the final vote even though he was a sponsor of the legislation because he spoke to a few sheriffs in his district? Did they not object two years ago? What was it that they said this time around that was so persuasive, exactly?
I’m skeptical of Wray’s explanation for his change of heart, especially given the timing. It’s quite possible that some or all of the local sheriffs in Wray’s district are opposed to repealing the law (I’ve reached out to all of them for comment but haven’t heard back as of the time of publication) despite the fact that the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association has come out in favor of repeal, but that still doesn’t explain Wray’s abrupt reversal on the issue.
I hope that Rep. Moore is right that repeal of the permit-to-purchase law is still on track to have enough votes to override Cooper’s veto despite Wray’s defection. We’ll see soon enough, but in the meantime the voters in Wray’s district deserve a more complete accounting of why he’s suddenly decided that a relic of the state’s Jim Crow laws is too important to take off the books.