Bucking the liberal, knee-jerk trend to restrict the rights of gun owners in other states, the North Carolina General Assembly is on the verge of passing an omnibus Concealed Carry bill (HB937) that only gets better as lawmakers work on it. Unfortunately, the North Carolina Sheriffs Association (NCSA) opposes the bill because of a single provision: the repeal of our pistol purchase permit system.
The pistol purchase permit system is a hold-over from the Jim Crow era. The idea of emancipated blacks arming themselves against the white majority was scary to many in power. Southern Democrats and their segregationist allies could not deny blacks their rights directly, but they could delay their rights by making it harder for them to exercise those rights. Rights delayed are rights denied. Sound familiar?
The same tactic is used by the left today in a number of areas. Unable to pass outright bans on civilian ownership, gun-haters propose regulations and laws that make the law-abiding gun owner jump through hoops or make it more expensive to exercise the right to keep and bear arms. The IRS used the same tactic with conservatives during two election cycles by delaying the tax-exempt status applications of hundreds of tea party, conservative, and religious groups. These roadblocks delayed those groups' organizing activities and, undoubtedly, had an effect on two elections. Rights delayed are rights denied.
The pistol purchase permit puts the local sheriff in charge of deciding who gets to exercise their rights. In many cases they simply create a stumbing block that, for some, is not worth the hassle. And that's the point. At present less than 15 states have such a system. The prospective gun buyer fills out an application for a purchase permit at the sheriff's office. Then they come back in a week and, if approved, pay for the permit. The permits are good for a single handgun and there is usually a limit to the number of permits a person can get at one time or over a period of time. The buyer then takes the permit to the store where no background check is performed since the sheriff's department has already done one. There are a number of problems with the current system which support full repeal.
De-Facto Waiting Periods
The prospective gun buyer — the woman with the abusive boyfriend, the young single mother living in a rough neighborhood, the elderly couple living on their own, the battered wife — has to wait a week to be allowed to exercise his/her constitutional right. In the meantime, that citizen is unable to defend themselves with a handgun. Rights delayed are rights denied.
The “Permit Loophole”
Politicians love to complain about loopholes. Think “gun show loophole,” for example. Well, the permit system has a real and very dangerous loophole. Permits are valid for years, so a prospective buyer may pass the background check initially, but when the permit is presented at time of sale, no subsequent check is required to be performed to see if anything has changed. If, in the time between purchasing the permit and presenting it at the store, the buyer had become ineligible to buy the firearm there is no way to tell that from the permit. A sale would be completed, based on outdated information.
Who Decides If You Have the Right?
Another problem is the idea that a single individual or department can deny or delay your right to keep and bear arms. If the sheriff thinks you don't need a gun because he doesn't like you, your rights are denied. If the sheriff thinks you don't “need” a gun, he can deny you. Your rights can be denied based on the sheriff's opinion of you and your background, even if you have not been convicted of a crime.
Gun Control Through Hoops
If the sheriff wants to make it difficult for people to buy guns because he is idealogically opposed to civilian ownership, he can do it through the permit process. To illustrate the last example, my brothers live in Durham, what I like to call “Dur-hell.” It's one of our state's most crime-ridden cities and it's inhabited largely by those who are pre-disposed to vote for liberal Democrats (northern transplants, college kids, elitist academics, and minorities). Home to Duke University but with a murder rate of 11.7 per 100,000 in 2011, Durham's murder rate is higher than cities like Boston, Charlotte, Dallas, Denver, Houston, and Los Angeles. Neighboring Raleigh, the State Capital, has a murder rate that is nearly one third that of Durham.
When my youngest brother wanted to move out and get his own apartment, my Dad suggested he get a handgun. The permit process in Durham County involves not only filling out the permit application but the submission of at least two letters from non-family members who can attest to your character. That is an arbitrary hoop, created by those opposed to civilian gun ownership. You can still get a permit, but you have to prove you deserve it. Rights delayed are rights denied.
Why Do Sheriffs Support the Status Quo?
It's not about losing revenue. Permits cost a measly five bucks. A post on the NCSA website attempts to explain the group's support for pistol purchase permits. They claim the NICS system is not sufficient to screen potential applicants. In a post entitled “The Myth of Using NICS Instead of Using North Carolina Pistol Permit Background Checks,” the NCSA claims that only those who are fingerprinted are reported to NICS.
“Because of the limited criminal history information provided to NICS and the limited involuntary mental health commitment information provided to NICS, there are numerous categories of persons prohibited from possessing a gun by federal law who will not be covered by using only a NICS check.”
They claim that “persons who are prohibited by federal law from possessing a firearm, but who are likely to not be discovered by a NICS check” will be stopped by a purchase permit. So, let's run down the list of those whom the NCSA claim are not reported and can only be stopped by local permits.
 People who are are under indictment for a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year – Indictment and conviction are different things. You can be stripped of your rights to liberty if you are accused of a crime and cannot make bail, so this seems reasonable. Okay, I'll give them this one on first blush.
 Persons who have been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year – According to NCSA “many misdemeanants, punishable for up to two years in prison, are not fingerprinted and, therefore, are not reported to NICS.” So you are telling me that North Carolina doesn't fingerprint convicted criminals? What the hell?
 Fugitives from justice – Okay, so by definition, doesn't that make them a criminal? Couldn't this be solved by reporting them to NICS? And what if the fugitive has a permit issued before he (or she) went on the lamb?
 Unlawful users of (or those addicted to) any controlled substance – “Unlawful user” means they are a criminal. Since we apparently don't fingerprint criminals unless they are felons, how do sheriffs get this info? Do the local drug rehab clinics or Narc-anon chapters turn over their membership roles to local law enforcement? Couldn't we solve this by doing our damned jobs and fingerprinting the criminals we arrest?
 People who have been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution – “Adjudicated” means the person has been judged in a court of law and that court has ordered their commitment. Why are we not reporting this to NICS? Isn't this part of the problem? We're not talking about reporting people to NICS based on their ADHD prescriptions, we're talking about commitment to the nut house. And, I ask again, how does the permit system stop someone from getting a gun if the permit was issued prior to adjudication or commitment?
 Persons subject to a court order restraining the person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or child of the intimate partner – A restraining order is not like a criminal conviction, but since this is part of Federal law since 1997 (see #7 below), why don't we report this info to NICS? And (I know I'm beating a dead horse here) how does a permit stop a person under a restraining order if the permit was issued prior to the order?
 Persons convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence – This is the Lautenberg Amendment to the Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act of 1997, passed by the 104th Congress. Since this is a matter of Federal Law and has been since 1997, why are we not passing this info to NICS? Oh, yeah. We don't fingerprint misdemeanants.
What to Make of All This
To be fair, the NCSA is not opposed to H937, only this provision, and they propose amending the bill to replace the repeal of the permits with a plan to study ways to improve the permit system. But, their arguments against the repeal of the permit system are pretty weak.
“North Carolina sheriffs have access to all of the data and information needed to make a determination whether or not an individual is a prohibited person under the Federal Gun Law, including information from the sheriff’s office’s own records, calls for law enforcement service, transportation for mental commitments, court records, and state criminal history records.” True enough, but why aren't we sending more info to NICS? And how do you overcome the objections I mentioned above?
The NCSA claims that the purchase permit system is “far superior to a NICS check and provides increased public safety for our citizens.” Is there any data to back up that claim? Any evidence that permits have prevented bad people from getting guns? If there is, I can't find it and the NCSA never puts any forward, so the claim that it increases safety is bogus.
Not all sheriffs agree with the official NCSA position. I contacted my local sheriff and he told me “all members do not agree with the NCSA and I am one of them but majority rules. I agree with HB 937.”
As with any change that increases liberty this one means that those in authority must give up some control, and that is probably the root of much of the opposition to this provision.
For more on H937, check out the NC General Assembly's page on the bill, and my friend Sean Sorrentino at NC Gun Blog who has done excellent work in assessing proposed gun laws in North Carolina and breaking them down so they are easier to understand.