A bill proposed by the N.C. Senate would change the process for buying handguns — eliminating a step in which sheriffs conduct background checks.
Under current law, a permit must be obtained from a sheriff, who conducts a background check on the potential buyer. School of Government Professor Jeff Welty said Senate Bill 503 would replace the current permit process with a procedure that requires gun dealers to notify the sheriff after purchase when a background check through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System is completed.
This would leave handgun buyers subject only to the national check, Welty said.
“So it would essentially make the process for purchasing a handgun the same as purchasing a long gun,” he said.
Eddie Caldwell, executive vice president and general counsel at the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association, said sheriffs feel that the pistol purchase permit requirement should not be repealed as the requirement contributed significantly to public safety.
“The reason that the permit is so much better than the national check is that we found that there’s errors in the national database,” Caldwell said. “Some of the offenses that prohibit people from obtaining and possessing firearms, some of those convictions are not maintained in the national database and the national database does not have recent calls for services.”
The national background check database does not record calls from domestic disputes, Caldwell said. This is the case even if someone threatened to kill another person, which would likely lead a sheriff to deny a permit request for a period of time.
Christy Clark, the North Carolina volunteer chapter leader for Moms Demand Action, said the new bill is dangerous and has a misleading title. Instead of modernizing the pistol permit process, Clark said the bill repeals it.
“The sheriff’s department issues these permits and they have the knowledge of the people in their community — and they determine at the local level if someone is too dangerous to have a pistol permit and purchase a handgun," she said. "So that for me is the greatest asset to our process and I would not want to see that go away."
Caldwell said the bill has been touted as an effort to computerize what is characterized as an outdated system, but in reality, the permit process is already automated in most counties.
While the state system is not perfect, he said doing away with the permit process would take away contingencies that offer protections for when the federal system fails.
Caldwell said the organization had a sheriff contact them a couple weeks ago about an individual who had gotten a gun — and the firearms dealer mistakenly sold it without getting the state permit.
"… The NICS check did not show a felony conviction that the purchaser had," Caldwell said. "And the sheriff found out about it later, and so that's just a good example of how the federal system is not infallible."
Repealing the pistol purchase permit process would make it easier for convicted felons and domestic abusers to obtain guns, Clark said.
“In Wake County, from the year 2014 to 2015, nearly 200 permits were denied to felons or domestic abusers, fugitives and people with severe mental illness, which shows that the background check system we currently have in North Carolina works to keep North Carolinians safe,” Clark said.
N.C. Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Orange, said there is also concern about ensuring that gun dealers submit all the required information to sheriffs, as the new bill shifts some of the registration responsibility from buyers to dealers.
“In the pistol permitting process, I think it's O.K. to make it easier for people to submit their permit requests," Meyer said. "But we need to maintain the standards for reviewing and approving those permits including the standard that sheriffs need to review each permit before it gets approval."
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