NC repeals pistol permit requirement, as legislature quickly overrides Cooper’s veto

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A major gun rights bill that includes a controversial repeal of the state’s permit requirement for buying handguns will become law in North Carolina after the GOP-controlled legislature overrode Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto.

Senate Bill 41 successfully passed a veto override vote 71 to 46 in the House Wednesday morning, following a similar successful vote in the Senate on Tuesday evening. The votes quickly followed Cooper’s decision Friday to veto the bill, and mark the first time GOP lawmakers have overridden a veto from the Democratic governor since 2018, when Republicans last held a supermajority.

The House has 120 members, but three House Democrats who have been willing to vote with Republicans on party-line bills in the past weren’t present Wednesday morning. Absences from Reps. Cecil Brockman of Guilford County, Tricia Cotham of Mecklenburg County and Michael Wray of Halifax County meant that Republicans only needed 71 votes to override the veto, not 72.

That is significant, since Republicans control 71 seats on their own, and without absences from Democrats, they would’ve needed at least one Democrat to vote for the override — an action that would put them at odds with the rest of their party and Cooper, the Democratic governor who is currently serving the final two years of his second term.

Wray’s legislative assistant said he didn’t come into the General Assembly because of a family emergency.

Brockman’s office said he missed the vote because he was in urgent care Wednesday morning, according to WRAL.

And Cotham said she “was receiving scheduled hospital treatment,” WBTV reported. “I do not and have not supported the dangerous repeal of pistol purchase permits, which I have voted against previously,” Cotham said.

The override vote in the Senate, meanwhile, was purely along party lines, with all 30 Republicans voting to override Cooper’s veto and 19 Democrats voting against (with one Democrat not present).

GOP lawmakers promised a swift override vote after Cooper issued his veto, and moved quickly to complete votes in both chambers. Democrats in the Senate voiced their objections, but in the House, Republicans made a motion to immediately hold a vote, saying that the issue had been thoroughly debated and enough notice of an override attempt had been given.

That didn’t make the vote any less contentious. Rep. Robert Reives, the House minority leader, tried to speak against the vote while it was occurring, but House Speaker Tim Moore said that procedural rules don’t allow that during veto overrides.

Reives instead expressed his frustration with the process once the vote was over. He apologized to school children who were visiting the legislature and watching from the gallery, and said that their teachers could explain that rushed votes aren’t normal.

That prompted GOP Rep. John Torbett of Gaston County to reply that the bill had already been debated extensively in committees and on the House and Senate floor.

Reactions from groups on both sides of gun debate

Support for the bill, particularly the pistol purchase permit repeal, has mostly fallen along party lines. Republicans argue the permitting system is outdated and an unnecessary infringement on Second Amendment rights. Nearly all Democrats argue that it makes little sense to remove an existing safeguard that helps law enforcement keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.

Gun safety advocates, during various debates over the past two months, have said that repealing the permit law, which requires anyone buying a handgun in North Carolina to first obtain a permit from their local sheriff’s office, is a mistake and will create a potentially dangerous loophole for private sales.

Becky Ceartas, the executive director of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence, said the legislature’s decision to repeal the permit law would put “every North Carolinian’s safety in greater peril.”

“Lawmakers that voted to repeal our Pistol Purchase Permitting system will have blood on their hands,” Ceartas said in a statement. “We will wake up 5 or 10 years from now and see that our gun homicide and gun suicide rates have risen. And we will directly point to these votes to repeal the Pistol Purchase Permitting system. They did not listen to facts, reason, or the vast majority of North Carolinians. Shame on them.”

The National Rifle Association, meanwhile, thanked GOP lawmakers for overriding Cooper’s veto.

D.J. Spiker, the NRA’s state director for North Carolina, said the bill replaces “onerous laws” that “have served no public service.”

Those include both the permit repeal and another part of the bill that allows people attending religious services at places of worship that also serve as schools, or have attached schools, to carry concealed handguns for their protection.

“Requiring a permit to purchase a handgun is a burdensome impediment to gun ownership — law-abiding residents should not have to ask the government for permission to exercise their Second Amendment rights,” Spiker said. “And, there is no reason church-goers should be restricted from protecting themselves when (worshiping). This has been a hard-fought battle, and I’m thrilled to say North Carolina is a freer state because of the state legislature’s actions.”

Nashville shooting brought up during Senate debate

After the shooting Monday at the Covenant School, a private religious elementary school in Nashville, Tennessee, that left six people dead, including three nine-year-old students, Cooper criticized GOP lawmakers for moving ahead with the override vote, calling it “outrageous” that Republicans wanted to “eliminate strong NC background checks and make it easier for dangerous people to buy guns and take them on some school grounds.”

Republican bill sponsors have pushed back against the notion that the permit law is necessary, and say that the vast majority of people applying for permits are law-abiding citizens — not criminals or others intending to commit gun violence — who shouldn’t need to go through an “arbitrary” process of getting approval from their sheriff’s office.

Sen. Danny Britt, a Lumberton Republican and one of the bill’s primary sponsors, said Tuesday that SB 41 would protect gun rights, and wouldn’t make communities less safe. He also challenged the idea that the bill would’ve had any bearing on a shooting like the one in Nashville.

On the other hand, Britt said, one of the other measures in the bill — which would allow people attending religious services at places of worship that also serve as schools, or have attached schools, to carry guns — would make it easier for church-goers and other worshipers to protect themselves.

“I would hope that no one uses the tragedy that occurred in Nashville to score political points,” Britt said on the Senate floor. “What we’re doing in this bill would not impact the situation in Nashville. What we’re doing in this bill would not make people less safe.”

Sen. Sydney Batch, a Democrat from Apex, spoke against the bill. Batch said despite being a gun owner herself, she was opposed to repealing the permit law, especially because of the loophole that could allow people who have committed crimes to obtain guns through private sales that don’t require a federal background check.

“This isn’t scoring political points,” Batch said. “This is a personal experience that I and thousands of other parents across the state worry about every single day.”