Politics & Government

Compromise breaks out around formerly controversial gun bill

Something unusual happened Thursday as lawmakers took up a hot-topic gun bill: There was agreement and acceptance as a compromise began to make its way through the Senate.

There was little debate and a sense of unanimity on all sides as a Senate judiciary committee took up the bill, which mostly clarifies the rights of gun-owners. Both Second Amendment supporters and anti-gun violence advocates used words like “thrilled” and “happy” to describe their sentiments when House Bill 562 received a favorable recommendation from the committee, with no changes. It will go to the full Senate next.

While both sides said it’s not the ideal bill they would want, neither said they would push for any additional, major changes.

Both asked that the Senate not alter the current version of the bill, which passed the House last month after a flurry of amendments and long, heated debate.

The final House vote was 78-37, largely along party lines with a few Democrats voting in support.

A major part of the bill that now has support from gun-control advocates and the N.C. Sheriff’s Association is that it would keep in place the current system that has county sheriffs issuing handgun permits. Initially, the bill would have replaced it with the national background check system.

The North Carolina Sheriff’s Association had opposed that provision of the bill, saying a sheriff’s check is more thorough than the national system. Critics of the sheriff’s pistol permit said a flaw is that it’s valid for five years. Potentially, someone could commit a crime after being issues a permit, serve jail time, but still be released with a valid permit and able to buy a handgun.

Association President Sheriff Asa Buck wrote to the senators Thursday listing three improvements the bill makes to the pistol permit system, saying they “will improve the pistol purchase permit process, make it consistent across the state, and address some of the top concerns raised by critics of the current process.”

Buck wrote that he supports provisions that limit the “look-back” period for a good moral character assessment to the previous five years, instead of the current law which has no limit; that would require development of a uniform permit application to be used by sheriffs statewide; and that would require those who possess mental health orders to respond promptly to a sheriff’s request for information for the completion of the permit review.

Members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America made up one of the largest groups present at Thursday’s committee meeting, which overflowed into the hallway. Spokeswoman Kim Yaman of Cary said she was thrilled that the Senate has not added any amendments. Her group urged the senators to pass the bill as is.

“The House went across all sides of the aisle, and there’s been no discussion in the Senate of changing anything,” Yaman said after the meeting. “This reflects the will of the people. The people of North Carolina are heard.”

Josette Chmiel of Grassroots NC, the state’s major Second Amendment advocacy group, said that while the bill is “watered down” and the organization preferred the initial version, she is happy it passed. It’s a step forward, she said.

Becky Ceartas, executive director of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence, said that overall she is “incredibly pleased” with the bill and the work the House did, noting several positive changes she urged the Senate to keep.

Ceartas supports one change that allows doctors to talk with their patients about gun safety and another that continues a ban on guns in the Legislative Building. She also favors the inclusion of a lifetime ban on gun ownership for crimes like stalking, assault on a female and domestic criminal trespass.

Knopf: 919-829-8955

Twitter: @tayknopf