When North Carolina Republicans began control of both the executive and legislative branches for the first time in well over 100 years, the newly-in-charge party officials wasted no time in pursuing a new and aggressive legislative agenda. Many of the Republican-sponsored proposals received an undue amount of attention from the national media and led to weekly protests.
Democrats, displaced from political power in a complete reversal of the last century, were understandably put-off by the GOP’s aggressive push on much of the proposed legislation, even if some of the same tactics had been used by Democrats in the past. But the methods of pushing through legislation have not been the only source of frustration for Democrats; they have predominantly taken issue with the contents of the laws. For example, Democrats and their supporters argue that certain bills signed into law unnecessarily expanded gun rights.
The contents of House Bill 937 began with various individual gun bills, and includes many provisions that can find support on both sides of the political aisle.
The somewhat controversial proposal—House Bill 937, a bill to amend various firearm laws—was passed by both the House and Senate and then signed by the Governor on July 29, 2013. The law jointly addresses what were previously various individual gun bills and includes many provisions that can find support on both sides of the political aisle—despite the fact that it was passed almost completely along party lines. This law increases penalties for certain crimes in which firearms are used, displayed, or used as a threat. House Bill 937 also criminalizes a person allowing a child to access or possess firearms without supervision and parental consent. This same bill calls for statewide uniformity in regulation of concealed handguns, criminalizes firearms on certain state properties, requires accurate record keeping by gun dealers, and enhances sentencing for felons who use firearms during the commission of a crime.
Most would agree that the use of guns as a method of everyday intimidation is dangerous and not something that should be permitted under the law. Further, one likely would agree that taking precautions to regulate firearms and minimize firearm possession by irresponsible individuals, especially by minors, is a prudent legislative step.
While these portions of the law regulate the improper use of firearms, the final portion of the Act actually expands the rights of certain individuals with valid concealed handgun permits. The law now permits the possession of a concealed handgun in locked vehicles in state government parking lots, as well as in a locked compartment in a vehicle on the premises of any public college or university, including community colleges, as long as the holder both works and resides on the premises. The concealed possession of a handgun inside of a locked vehicle is also allowed on the premises of a private college or university—unless that university has specifically prohibited the possession pursuant to the law.
Vehicle break-ins account for the majority of campus crimes, potentially increasing the risk of guns falling into the wrong hands.
The University of North Carolina’s President Tom Ross expressed his concern with this legislation while the bill was still under consideration. Ross said in a public statement that allowing firearms on campus would create an “increase in the risk of public safety and hamper our ability to protect not only our students, staff and faculty, but also campus visitors.” Though the bill stated these handguns would be in locked vehicles, vehicle break-ins account for the majority of campus crimes, potentially increasing the risk of guns falling into the wrong hands.
Not only would this create a risk for college students, but many state officials also could be at risk from the increased presence of firearms. For example, though metal detectors intercept weapons infiltrating the courthouses, guns in courthouse parking lots, while legal, would remain undetected. Section 14 of the law limits the possession of handguns on courthouse premises but also allows for permit holders to have firearms in closed containers in vehicles.
The law allows for handguns in paid-for assemblies or places where alcohol is sold.
In addition to concern from educational administrators and court personnel, members of the general public had reason for concern over a particular detail of the new gun law. The law allows for handguns in paid-for assemblies or places where alcohol is sold. Nightclubs, for example, serve alcohol, and the law affords permit carriers the right to have a concealed handgun in these locations.
Nightclubs, however, are also notorious for fights. The National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence reports that alcohol was a factor in the actions of forty-percent of individuals currently incarcerated for homicide, and three million violent crimes occur yearly in which the victim perceives the offender to have been drinking. Statistics such as these raised legitimate questions regarding the allowance of firearms in alcohol-serving establishments. Yet, the newly enacted provision is not the first of its kind, and a handful of other states have passed similar “guns in bars” legislation. In fact, Virginia passed a similar law, and in the year after its enactment, gun-related violence actually saw a decrease. Importantly, the law allows such establishments to post signs prohibiting the possession of concealed handguns on their premises.
At the same time, the omnibus gun law also includes provisions recognizing the fact that guns and alcohol do not mix. In fact, Section 21 of the new law allows the possession of firearms by judges and certain court personnel who have been issued concealed handgun permits in accordance with Article 54B—but not if the person is under the influence of alcohol or unlawful controlled substances.
Senate Bill 27 for “Public School Protection” ultimately was not included with the other gun laws.
Much like a lessening of the firearm permit process, Senate Bill 27 was another piece of legislation that did not make its way into the omnibus gun law. This bill had aimed for “Public School Protection” and would have allowed certified people to possess and carry firearms on educational property to provide extra protection at public schools. Certification would be granted by the North Carolina Criminal Justice Education and Training Standards Commission and designated through a local board of education or a charter school’s board of directors. Although the bill would have required persons authorized to carry firearms to be certified—and was initiated to protect students—this protection would have come with some risks. Additionally, many questions remained, such as where these firearms would be kept at the school facilities.
Many of the proposals in the North Carolina General Assembly did not make it to Crossover (pdf) this legislative session, and even when certain bills made it past this procedural barrier, they still did not advance into enactment. But as this one omnibus gun law shows, what is absent can be just as important as what is present in enacted legislation.