Gun rights bill gets initial OK from House | State / Region

Wednesday’s vote in favor of loosening the concealed carry rules tracked largely along party lines, but state Rep. John Faircloth of High Point was among eight Republicans who voted against relaxing the current law.

A retired police chief, Faircloth noted that many law enforcement officials oppose the idea of loosening “concealed carry” restrictions and read a letter of opposition by the man who holds his own former office, High Point Police Chief Kenneth Shultz.

The chief wrote that the prospect of more concealed firearms filled him with “great concern for the safety of our community and our officers,” Faircloth said.

The four-term Republican legislator observed that the proposal puts no limit on the number of weapons a person could conceal, raising the possibility that gang members could designate someone without a criminal record to travel with them carrying a backpack filled with firearms so they would have access to lethal weapons in a heartbeat.

But Republican legislators who backed the bill said they believe that changing the law actually would make North Carolina a safer place by putting effective means of self defense in the hands of more law-abiding residents.

“It is reasonable to allow law-abiding citizens to conceal carry in areas where open carry is currently allowed,” said Republican state Rep. Jon Hardister of Greensboro. “The bill does not change the pistol purchase permit (requirement) and it maintains background checks.”

The aim of those supporting the bill is “to ensure that law-abiding citizens have the ability to protect themselves and their families,” Hardister added.

Bill sponsor Rep. Chris Millis (R-Hampstead) said the proposal was narrowly constructed so that it “does not weaken sanctions against people who are not qualified” to own a handgun.

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“These criminals will no longer have an advantage over our law-abiding citizens,” Millis said of the measure’s desired outcome.

But Democrats saw things the other way, contending that the public welfare could only be undercut by increasing the number of places where people can carry firearms hidden from plain view. Unlike their GOP counterparts, Democrats voted as one against the bill.

Former Guilford County judge Joe John, now a Democratic state representative from Raleigh, spoke of an incident that occurred in a court case he once presided over in which the defendant in a child-support dispute shot himself as he reached for a concealed pistol in the midst of a courtroom hearing.

John, who is also a retired North Carolina Court of Appeals’ justice, said it was never clear whether the gunman — if he had drawn his weapon successfully — intended “to shoot me, the assistant district attorney or the mother of the child.”

The House voted to table an amendment John proposed that would have increased penalties for improperly carrying either a concealed or visible firearm “in the State Capitol Building, the Executive Mansion, the Western Residence of the Governor, or on the grounds of any of these buildings.”

Legislators also voted down a proposed amendment by state Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Greensboro) to lower the number of bullets allowed in firearm magazines from 15 to 10. Harrison said the lower bullet count would make it more difficult for assailants to carry out mass murder.

“I think it’s going in the wrong direction for preventing gun violence in our state,” Harrison said of the measure scheduled to return for a final House vote on third reading this morning.

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Contact Taft Wireback at 336-373-7100 and follow @TaftWirebackNR on Twitter.