CHARLOTTE, NC (Bruce Henderson/The Charlotte Observer) - Handgun owners would no longer have to take gun safety courses or submit their fingerprints for background checks in order to carry concealed weapons in public, under a bill under debate by the N.C. House.
Concealed-carry permits would no longer be required under the measure, which a House judiciary committee endorsed Wednesday evening. The bill also would let 18-year-olds conceal guns, down from the current age threshold of 21.
The North Carolina Sheriffs' Association has taken no position on the bill, but said it's pleased legislators didn't also move to revoke permits required to buy handguns. County sheriffs are a key voice in the debate because they issue handgun permits.
"Our position is that we believe the concealed-carry statute should continue in existence and is valuable, but between the two, the purchase permit is most critical," said executive vice president Eddie Caldwell.
Caldwell noted that the House bill still requires owners carrying concealed weapons to make law enforcement officers aware of their guns. It also lets permit applicants release their mental health records without making a second trip to their local sheriff's office.
Mecklenburg County Sheriff Irwin Carmichael won't take a position on the bill, but says the current permit system works well.
"Because of the training requirements, I think it's a good process," Carmichael said. "If you have a person who's 18, who has no training whatsoever, they don't understand the laws, they don't understand the legalities, and that causes pause for me."
Mecklenburg is among sheriffs offices that have complained that slow access to mental health records have slowed processing of permits, which they're supposed to do within 45 days. Mecklenburg recently reported a "significant backlog" for records from Carolinas Medical Center for concealed-carry applicants.
Gun rights advocates argue Mecklenburg and other urban counties are using problems in obtaining mental health records as an excuse to purposely delay issuing concealed-carry permits.
Carmichael "doesn't seem to be doing much to shepherd the bureaucrats," said Paul Valone, president of Grass Roots North Carolina. Mecklenburg County makes applicants wait as much as six months to even apply for a permit, he said.
Carmichael denies any such slow down. "Why would we hold up the process?," he said. "We're try to speed up the process."
Gun control advocates say concealed carry permits offer scrutiny of buyers of privately-sold guns and ensure that gun owners have basic safety training.
"This bill would roll back one of North Carolina's core public safety laws by allowing people to carry hidden loaded handguns in public with no permit and no firearm safety training," Christy Clark of Huntersville, state chapter leader of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, told judiciary committee members Wednesday, WRAL reported.
Grass Roots North Carolina said 13 other states have lifted concealed-carry permit requirements with no repercussions.
"This is a logical evolution to enhancing the ability of citizens to protect themselves," Valone said. "It removes obstructions and burdens on people to carry concealed for protection, while presenting absolutely no additional risk to public safety as demonstrated in 13 other states."
The gun-rights group objects to language in the current law that lets sheriffs deny permits because of "physical or mental infirmity," a standard that may be interpreted differently. The House bill substitutes that standard by specifying mental disorders " as defined by the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the published by the American Psychiatric Association.
Sponsors in the House said the intent of the bill was to allow people to carry concealed guns in places where they are already able to carry them openly. It's already legal to wear a visible handgun, except where restricted.
"If someone can legally carry openly there's no legal reason for that person not to be able to carry concealed," co-sponsor Rep. Larry Pittman, a Republican from Concord, told the committee.
Current state law denies concealed-carry permits to a range of applicants including those who are felons, use drugs, have committed violent crimes, been convicted of impaired driving or been involuntarily committed for mental health treatment.