NC House moves to end pistol purchase permits, citing COVID-19 pandemic

North Carolina’s state representatives chose to end pistol purchase permits in the state, citing an influx of applications in urban areas during the COVID-19 pandemic.

House members passed House Bill 398 Wednesday in a 69-48 vote with all but two Democrats and a single Republican voting against the bill.

The bill now moves to the Senate.

In North Carolina, a pistol purchase permit or concealed carry permit is required to buy a handgun.

“During the pandemic, we have developed a serious problem,” said Rep. John Szoka, a Fayetteville Republican who sponsored the bill. “A lot of people wanted to get handguns for personal protection, and so what happened in some of the urban counties was the sheriff’s departments were overloaded with requests for pistol purchase permits.”

Szoka said without the permit, a gun buyer will still go through a background check at the time of the sale.

Szoka cited Mecklenburg County as one of the sheriff’s offices with a backlog. He said the county is still six months behind on processing the applications.

That problem was seen elsewhere in the state. Two weeks into the state’s COVID-19 shutdown, Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker announced he would suspend the issuance of both pistol purchase permits and concealed carry permits due to concerns about spreading the virus while people waited in line.

But a judge said in February Baker may have used that excuse as a guise because he couldn’t handle the number of permit applications that came in during 2020, The News & Observer reported.

Baker had received 34,000 more applications in 2020 than either of the previous two years, The N&O reported.

Controversial bill

To cut down on the problem, Szoka’s bill originally allowed people to apply for permits in neighboring counties. But he said the NC Sheriff’s Association did not support his original bill. They countered with a request to repeal the pistol purchase permit in its entirety.

Rep. Marcia Morey, a Durham Democrat, did not support Szoka’s bill and was the only opponent of the bill to speak Wednesday night.

She said a pistol purchase permit has saved lives for more than 100 years. Citing Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit organization that advocates for gun control, she said 80,000 people have been denied firearms sales since 1998 in North Carolina and 2,000 sales to felons have been stopped.

“There is no reason to take this away from North Carolina,” Morey said. “States that have pistol purchasing permits see 10% fewer incidents of shootings and homicides because there is that safeguard.

“Our sheriffs have opposed repealing this bill until this year and I’m not sure why they changed their position.”

She added that many sheriffs have called voicing concerns about HB 398.

“If we repeal this bill, it will be easier for those who are convicted of felonies, domestic violence abusers, and others who cannot by law possess a handgun or a firearm, to circumvent laws and get handguns from strangers,” Morey said.

Morey called for stronger gun laws.

Her words were echoed by Becky Ceartas, executive director of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence, who sent The News & Observer a written statement following the vote.

“For decades, North Carolina’s Pistol Purchase Permit law has been a backbone of public safety in North Carolina, closing a loophole left open by federal law,” Ceartas said. “Federal law only requires background checks on firearm purchases made through federally licensed firearms retailers. This leaves out firearm purchases made from private sellers, at gun shows or on the internet.

“North Carolina’s PPP law has kept closed this loophole on handguns bought through private sellers in our state, saving countless lives.”

Ceartas provided statistics from Missouri after the state’s lawmakers made a similar repeal in 2007. Ceartas said the state saw a 23% increase in homicides in the two years following, despite the states around it not following a similar trend.

She added that it was associated with an increase in firearm suicides.

She compared those statistics to Connecticut, where a permit-to-purchase law passed in 1995 and was connected over the next 11 years to a 28% decrease in homicides and a 33% decrease in suicides involving firearms.

Lawmakers were warned Wednesday that if the discussion went on too long in the already three-hour long meeting, House Speaker Tim Moore would pull the bill from the calendar.

For more North Carolina government and politics news, listen to the Under the Dome politics podcast from The News & Observer and the NC Insider. You can find it on Pandora, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, Amazon Music, Megaphone or wherever you get your podcasts.

Under the Dome

With the start of the new year and a new legislative session, The News & Observer has launched a new Under the Dome podcast. We’re unpacking legislation and issues that matter to keep you updated on what’s happening in North Carolina politics twice a week on Monday and Friday mornings. Check us out here and sign up for our weekly Under the Dome newsletter for more political news.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting