Politics & Government

Here’s why critics are taking aim at a new NC gun bill

In this Jan. 19, 2016 file photo, handguns are displayed at the Smith & Wesson booth at the Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show in Las Vegas.
In this Jan. 19, 2016 file photo, handguns are displayed at the Smith & Wesson booth at the Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show in Las Vegas. AP

North Carolina’s gun battle flared again Wednesday when gun control advocates protested a measure they fear would eliminate background checks for handgun sales.

The protest was aimed at Senate Bill 503, which would replace the current permitting system handled by local sheriffs with an online system. Critics say the bill would make it easier for guns to fall into the wrong hands.

Sen. Jeff Tarte, a Cornelius Republican and the bill’s chief sponsor, said North Carolina is the only state that still uses a paper permitting system.

“The intent would be to join the 21st century,” Tarte said, “and use the technology available to us to be able to work in minutes instead of months. This (new) process won’t make the system more safe or less safe. It’ll just bring the system online.”

Now handgun buyers must get a permit from the sheriff, who does a background check. Tarte’s bill would have gun dealers to do the federally required checks through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which is run through the FBI. The dealer would then have to notify the sheriff of each background check.

In moving the process online, the bill eliminates current laws that require sheriffs to issue permits.

“We’re concerned about any bill that repeals background checks,” said Christy Clark of Huntersville, the leader of the N.C. chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “We support maintaining the pistol permit system.”

Eddie Caldwell, executive vice president and general counsel of the N.C. Sheriffs’ Association, agreed.

“As we read the bill, it would repeal the requirement that people who transfer handguns get a pistol purchase permit,” he said. “The bill does more than just automate the process. … The sheriffs believe it does not provide an equivalent amount of public safety protection.”

As they have around the country, gun laws have always been contentious in North Carolina.

In 2015, lawmakers passed a watered-down version of a bill that that clarified the rights of gun-owners. But they removed a provision at the time that would have repealed the pistol permit system that requires handgun buyers to get permits from their local sheriff.

Last week, the House passed a bill that would allow gun owners to bring weapons to church services held at school buildings.

Jim Morrill: 704-358-5059, @jimmorrill

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