Law enforcement officers voice concern as NC House considers allowing concealed guns without permits

Law enforcement officers voice concern as NC House considers allowing concealed guns without permits

As an omnibus gun bill heads to a full vote of the N.C. House today voters, gun control groups and some of the state’s most popular Republican sheriffs are all saying it goes too far.

House Bill 746 would, with a few exceptions, remove the state’s requirement for a concealed carry permit, allowing anyone 18 or older who legally owns a handgun to carry to conceal it except where expressly prohibited.

The bill does away with a requirement for state approved safety courses required by sheriffs’ offices, which issue concealed carry permits under the current law.

The North Carolina Association of Police Chiefs came out against the bill this week, as did some of the state’s most prominent law enforcement officers.

“Repeal of the concealed carry permit requirement eliminates a valuable method to identify persons who should not be carrying a firearm, such as the mentally ill, convicted felons and identified gang members,” the association said in a written statement. “The NCACP opposes the repeal of the concealed carry permit system as detrimental to the safety of the public and law enforcement officers.”

Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes, one of the state’s most popular and longest-serving Republican sheriffs, is opposing the bill – as is conservative Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison.

“There’s nothing magical about the age of 18,” Barnes said. “You don’t all of a sudden become enlightened. Just because you’re 18 doesn’t give you all the answers. I believe if you’re going to carry concealed you should have some training – whether it’s a training course, police training or military training.”

“You need that training, as far as how to handle a gun and when to handle a gun – when to pull it, when not to pull it, legal things that you need to know about carrying and pulling it,” Barnes said. “If you don’t have the requirement for that kind of training, a lot of people are not going to educate themselves. And that’s dangerous.”

Barnes also said the vetting of concealed carry applicants – including for serious mental health issues – is essential and something local sheriff’s offices should be doing. Pistol purchase permitting allows a measure of screening, Barnes said – but carrying concealed is another level of responsibility, which requires a greater degree of scrutiny.

“I was one of the people pushing the hardest to get concealed carry in North Carolina,” Barnes said. “I’m for it. But I think you have to have something in place to do it right.”

The system in place has worked well, Barnes said. More than 21,000 residents of Guilford County have concealed carry permits, according to Barnes – and he’s only revoked about 10 over the course of his tenure as sheriff.

Even conservative sheriffs who support the bill are expressing reservations about portions of it – particularly the lack of any sort of mandatory training for those carrying concealed.

“I prefer concealed carry of firearms to open carry,” said Rockingham County Sheriff Sam Page. “I think open carry draws too much attention. And when I see the [shootings and terror attacks] that have happened in London, in Oklahoma, in Orlando I think, ‘Could someone have done something to prevent this if they’d had a concealed weapon?’ I think maybe they could. The bad guys are going to conceal up on you anyway.”

Page said he’s supporting the bill, but hopes that lawmakers in the House or the Senate will offer an amendment putting back the mandatory safety courses for those who want to carry a handgun.

“The age of 18 doesn’t bother me,” Page said. “I joined the military when I was 18 and between 18 and 23 I was entrusted with guarding nuclear resources, I was charged with using deadly force in the event someone tried to attack us.”

But not everyone gets that sort of safety training offered by the military, Page said – whatever age they decide to carry.

“I do think there should be a gun safety class component for anyone who wants to carry, open or concealed,” Page said. “I never want to support bills that would add restrictions on law abiding citizens – I look at the constitutional side of the issue, the right to keep and bear arms. But our law now has that gun safety aspect and I would hope that someone would insert that amendment.”

Two polls released this month, both commissioned by gun safety organizations, the overwhelming majority of North Carolina voters oppose the bill.

Public Policy Polling found 82 percent of voters polled want to see concealed carry permits preserved. Eighty percent of those identifying themselves as gun owners agreed.

The poll was commissioned by Americans for Responsible Solutions, a gun safety group formed by former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona. Giffords was was shot in the head during a meeting with constituents in a public meeting in 2011. Though Giffords survived, the shooter killed six people – among them a U.S. District Court Judge – and injured 19.

Americans for Responsible Solutions also launched an advertisement opposing the bill.

Another poll by SurveyUSA found 89 percent of North Carolina voters want to keep the concealed carry permit system. Eighty-three percent of self-identified gun owners in that poll agreed.

That poll was commissioned by Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund.
“This poll reveals that an overwhelming majority of North Carolinians across the political spectrum recognize that our permitting system is an essential tool for maintaining public safety in our state,” said Kaki McKinney, volunteer with the North Carolina chapter of Moms Demand Action.

“North Carolina has a long history of responsible gun ownership,” McKinney said in a statement. “And we understand keeping common-sense gun laws, like those that call for a permit to carry a concealed loaded handgun in public, are crucial for keeping our streets and families safe.”