By a 27-20 party line vote, the North Carolina Senate passed a bill (HB 398 ) Wednesday that would repeal the state’s pistol purchase permit requirement.
The measure had passed the House in May after a heated debate, as Policy Watch previously reported . Gov. Cooper is likely to veto the bill, as he did with another measure  that would have allowed people with concealed carry permits to bring guns onto church grounds that also serve as school properties.
HB 398 would substitute the state purchase permit for handguns with the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System managed by the FBI. The North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association previously opposed similar bills, but changed its stance this year. Eddie Caldwell, executive vice president and general counsel for the association, told Policy Watch the FBI check has become more effective — and now includes data and records including those related to mental health — making the state system obsolete.
However, the FBI background check regulates only licensed gun dealers — not private sellers, such as those at gun shows and online. The state system currently applies to those transactions, but if the bill becomes law, no longer would. Without the FBI background check, those handgun sales would be essentially unregulated.
Opponents of the bill view the matter very differently. “2020 was the most violent year in the 21st century in our state,” said North Carolinians against Gun Violence Executive Director Becky Ceartas in a press release. “Gun deaths, excluding suicides, rose by 31% in 2020 compared to 2019 and repealing our pistol purchase permitting system will surely mean the loss of more lives.”
The bill does not affect North Carolinians who want to obtain a concealed carry permit for handguns. Individuals who want to purchase an assault rifle still need to go through the FBI check.
Caldwell said the $5 application fee for the state pistol permit does not cover the staff time for sheriff deputies to perform background checks. “Doing away with the permit will probably be a financial boon because personnel no longer have to process those permits can be deployed to other law enforcement purposes.”
Caldwell said in an earlier email that the association does not collect statewide data on pistol permits. However, federal data show handgun background checks through the FBI grew by 50% to 29,783 in 2020, compared to 2019.
Sen. Chuck Edwards, a Republican representing Buncombe, Henderson and Transylvania counties, endorsed repeal of the state pistol permit. He called the state permit a racist system established in the Jim Crow era, citing higher rejection rate among Black people than whites.
Sen. Natasha Marcus, D-Mecklenburg, however, objected to the bill. She noted that in the past fiscal year, 2,300 background checks passed the FBI system but failed the state check in Mecklenburg County.
In a statement issued on Tuesday , North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein echoed some of Marcus’s concerns. “This background check process is one of our most effective tools to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, felons, and other dangerous people,” Stein said. “However, this bill would remove sheriffs’ role in granting permits, taking away their ability to protect the people in their communities and making it easier for people who are dangerous to buy pistols.”
Gun control advocates say state permit helps curb gun violence, protect public health
At a press conference Wednesday, bill opponents said state background checks should remain in place.
“There’s simply no reason to repeal it,” said Gerald Givens Jr., president of the Raleigh-Apex NAACP chapter. “If North Carolinians wake up five or 10 years from now and the state has higher rates of gun violence, we can point to the repeal of the pistol purchase permitting system as a major reason why.”
Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research  said a 27% increase in firearm homicide rates could be attributed to the repeal of the pistol permit system in Missouri in 2007, while Connecticut reported a 28% reduction after the state instituted its permitting system in 1995. Similarly, Missouri’s firearm suicide rate increased by 24%, as compared to a 33% decrease in Connecticut following the adoption of the state permit.
Caldwell told Policy Watch the association has not reviewed the findings of the study cited by advocates.
Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker spoke at the press event, saying he strongly opposes the bill despite the position of the Sheriff’s Association. “We have to make sure that as responsible citizens that we look at our rights and be willing to go through a few more hoops perhaps to legally be able to own and possess, just to make sure that they don’t end up in the wrong hands,” Baker said.
Baker said much as he supports Second Amendment rights, his office must conduct rigorous checks to ensure that handguns are in the hands of responsible citizens.
“We are waking up in the morning, we are seeing shootings all over the county, all over the city,” Baker said. “And that’s happening not only in Wake now, but all over the state.”