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NC Gov. Cooper vetoes pistol permit repeal

A holstered handgun. (Al Behrman/TNS)

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a bill Monday that would change a state gun purchasing law.

Cooper, a Democrat, vetoed House Bill 398, “Pistol Purchase Permit Repeal,” which would remove the requirement that handgun buyers get a permit from their local sheriff.

“Gun permit laws reduce gun homicides and suicides and reduce the availability of guns for criminal activity,” Cooper said in a statement. “At a time of rising gun violence, we cannot afford to repeal a system that works to save lives. The legislature should focus on combating gun violence instead of making it easier for guns to end up in the wrong hands.”

The bill passed the Senate on Aug. 18 along party lines, 27-20, with all Republicans for and all Democrats against.

Republicans have argued in favor of the bill, repeatedly noting the law’s origin in the Jim Crow South and efforts to keep guns away from Black North Carolinians.

Sen. Chuck Edwards, a Henderson County Republican said, “Pistol purchase permits were created by Jim Crow Democrats to keep guns away from black people, and data shows that black applicants are still rejected at a higher rate than white applicants.”

“In any other context, Democrats would view these facts and allege ‘systemic racism.’ That they refuse to do so on this issue is yet more evidence that they selectively wield such accusations for political ends,” Edwards said.

Politicians in the current political parties generally fall along partisan lines on gun regulations. Polling by several groups in the past few years has shown that a majority of Americans support stricter gun laws.

N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat, said earlier this month that the law is “one of our most effective tools to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, felons and other dangerous people.”

Stein said in a statement that the 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,” The N&O previously reported.

House Speaker Tim Moore, a Republican, noted in a statement the overload of pistol permit applications to sheriffs during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

“This bill would have provided an avenue for those individuals,” Moore said.

“To deny North Carolinians a path to obtain that measure of personal protection is to deny a fundamental constitutional right. Governor Cooper is playing politics with our Second Amendment rights,” he said.

North Carolinians Against Gun Violence Executive Director Becky Ceartas praised the veto in a statement, citing increases in gun violence and saying that, “repealing our pistol purchase permitting system would surely mean the loss of more lives.”

Marcus Bass, Deputy Director of NC Black Alliance, said: “Let us be clear, their opposition to the Pistol Purchase Permitting system is not based on a desire to promote racial equity; it is based on their desire to appease the gun lobby and undermine North Carolina’s gun safety laws.”

The North Carolina chapters of Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action also praised the veto.

“Vetoing this dangerous bill proves again that Governor Cooper listens to the experts and puts public safety first,” Tony Cope, volunteer with the state chapter of Moms Demand Action, which is part of Everytown for Gun Safety, said in an emailed statement.

“We urge state legislators who support public safety to stand with Gov. Cooper in keeping guns out of the hands of people who cannot pass our state’s background checks,” Cope said.

In April, when the bill moved through a House committee, Rep. Jay Adams, a Hickory Republican and lead sponsor, called the law “obsolete” and said the emphasis should be on the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

The North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association supported the bill, though not all sheriffs agreed.

Eddie Caldwell Jr., executive vice president and general counsel of the association, said in April that the group previously opposed the repeal but that “times have changed” as the national system has improved. Caldwell told The N&O that the NICS check made the law obsolete, calling that background check system more thorough.

Chances for a veto override are slim, given lawmakers’ divide on the issue. Republicans have majorities in both the House and Senate, but not the supermajorities needed for an override.

Sen. Wiley Nickel, a Cary Democrat, called it a “bad bill” in a tweet soon after the veto.

“If Republicans bring the bill back to the Senate we have the votes to sustain Governor Cooper’s veto and ensure this bill will not become law,” Nickel said.

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