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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Avi Bajpai

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper vetoes pistol permit repeal, setting up override showdown with GOP

RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed gun rights legislation Friday that would repeal the state’s permit requirement for buying handguns, which Republicans argue is outdated and an unnecessary infringement on Second Amendment rights, but which most Democrats vehemently oppose ending.

The bill Cooper blocked passed the GOP-controlled Legislature as a package of gun rights measures. In addition to the permit repeal, Senate Bill 41 would also allow people to carry concealed handguns to places of worship that also serve as schools, or have attached schools, in order to help worshippers protect themselves during religious services that take place outside school operating hours.

SB 41 would also launch a two-year statewide awareness campaign to promote safe gun storage.

“Eliminating strong background checks will allow more domestic abusers and other dangerous people to own handguns and reduces law enforcement’s ability to stop them from committing violent crimes,” Cooper said in a statement. “Second Amendment supporting, responsible gun owners know this will put families and communities at risk.”

Cooper previously vetoed standalone versions of the permit repeal and concealed carry bills, but this year, Republicans are just one vote short of being able to override his vetoes. That one Democratic vote they need is in the House, and although no Democrats voted for a standalone permit repeal bill last month, three Democrats voted for the full gun package last week, signaling that Cooper’s veto could be bypassed.

The governor’s decision to block the bill sets up the first override test this session for Republican legislative leaders, who have said they have enough Democratic support on certain issues to revisit bills Cooper has blocked earlier in his term.

State Sen. Danny Britt, a Robeson County Republican who was one of the bill’s primary sponsors, said Friday that Cooper’s veto showed that he “chose to maintain our duplicative gun laws and infringe on our constitutional rights.”

Britt also suggested that an override vote could come soon, saying he looked forward to “a swift veto override in the Senate.”

Permit repeal has been top priority for GOP

Under current state law, anyone who wants to buy a handgun in North Carolina needs to first obtain a permit from their local sheriff’s office. As part of that process, sheriffs run background checks on the buyers.

Republicans say that stronger federal background checks have made the permit requirement unnecessary, and that sheriff’s offices shouldn’t be able to arbitrarily approve or deny permits. That, combined with some lengthy delays in permits getting approved in Triangle-area counties during the pandemic, due to a surge in applications, has led GOP lawmakers to push for the permit law to be repealed.

Democrats have warned that doing away with the permit law, which applies to all gun sales, including private ones, will create a loophole that will lead to more guns getting in the wrong hands.

Debate over the bill grew tense on the House floor last week when GOP House Speaker Tim Moore said that, in the interest of time and getting the bill passed in the same form as it was approved by the Senate, he wouldn’t take up votes on amendments offered by Democrats.

The amendments, which would have added gun safety measures Democrats have long wanted to enact, like universal background checks and a red flag law, were certain to fail in the Republican-controlled House. But Democrats protested that they should have been allowed to debate and vote on the amendments, as was the case during Senate floor debate over the bill in February.

Floor debate was eventually cut short when state Rep. Destin Hall, a top Republican lawmaker, made a procedural motion to end discussion and move immediately to a vote on the bill, giving leaders of both parties three minutes to speak on it first.

House Minority Leader Robert Reives used the time allotted to him to express his frustration that the amendments weren’t considered. He said he understood Democrats were angry, but emphasized that cutting the debate short was fully allowed under the House rules.

“I would concur that we’re getting to an uncomfortable point,” Reives said. “And I hope folks recognize, at some level, there’s got to be recognition there are other people in the room.

Moore later defended his decision not to entertain the amendments.

“Everyone who had an amendment, they were recognized to debate and they had their chance to debate, and in the debate, they actually talked about the things that were in their amendment, and we allowed that to go,” Moore told reporters.

Blocking repeal a losing battle for gun safety advocates

Republicans have the required supermajority in the Senate to override vetoes. In the House, they’re one seat short, but Moore has repeatedly said he believes he has a “working” supermajority since he says multiple Democrats have expressed their support on certain bills.

During the House vote on SB 41, Democratic Reps. Shelly Willingham of Edgecombe County, Michael Wray of Northampton County and Marvin Lucas of Cumberland County broke ranks with their party and voted in favor of the bill.

Groups like North Carolinians Against Gun Violence and the North Carolina Black Alliance, which vigorously opposed SB 41 as it made its way through the Legislature, thanked Cooper for blocking the bill.

Marcus Bass, deputy director of the N.C. Black Alliance, said in a statement that repealing the permit law would “be the biggest setback of gun regulations in North Carolina’s history.

“The General Assembly is attempting to unlock easy access to guns across our state. If they vote to overturn Gov. Cooper’s veto, we will not be able to regain access to regulation of these purchases and any person for any reason will have open access to harm,” Bass said. “This poor decision by the legislature must be stopped immediately.”

Supporters of the bill, however, are confident an override will be successful.

In a statement, Paul Valone, the president of gun rights group Grass Roots North Carolina, said he wasn’t surprised Cooper vetoed the bill, and said he was looking forward to working to enact the bill into law.

“Given that the bill passed by veto-proof supermajorities in both chambers of the Legislature, we have every confidence that we will deliver defeat to his doorstep,” Valone said.


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