Potential Background Check Legislation Repeal in North Carolina

Jessi Rae Morton

News Editor

According to a press release issued by Everytown for Gun Safety, “On Tuesday, February 14, [2023], Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action volunteers [testified] against HB 50, […] legislation that would repeal North Carolina’s law requiring background checks on handgun sales by removing the purchase permit requirement. The permitting system requires a person to obtain a background check before purchasing any handgun and provides local sheriffs with authority to deny permits to people who would pose a threat to public safety with a handgun.” 

On Feb. 22, 2023, HB 50 passed the state house, and a similar—though not identical—bill had previously been passed by the state senate. According to Avi Bajpai’s reporting for The News & Observer, “The repeal plans are in two different pieces of legislation, so the Republican-controlled House and Senate would need to negotiate a final version to be sent to Gov. Roy Cooper. And it’s not yet clear that the legislation has enough votes to bypass the Democratic governor, who has vetoed a similar plan before.”

Everytown for Gun Safety describes itself as “the largest gun violence prevention organization in the country with nearly ten million supporters and more than 375,000 donors.” Moms Demand Action is a part of Everytown for Gun Safety and describes itself as “the nation’s largest grassroots volunteer network working to end gun violence.” Similarly, Students Demand Action “is the largest grassroots, youth-led gun violence prevention group in the country.”

These organizations and others like them have been working for many years to advocate for stronger gun legislation, and their efforts to testify against HB 50 align clearly with their goals. However, HB 50 also saw opposition from other groups, including some sheriffs. According to reporting by Steve Doyle for Fox News 8, “Representatives from Guilford, Forsyth, Durham and Wake counties said their sheriffs were not in favor of ending checks. Rep. Zack Hawkins (D-Durham) asked if counties such as his could opt-out of this change and continue to do the checks. [Rep. Allen Chesser (R-Nash), one of the bill’s primary sponsors], after checking with staff, said no, citing statute that doesn’t allow for local opt-out of state laws.” 

Doyle further reports that “During a community forum on Tuesday [Feb. 21, 2023], Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough decried the bill and change in the law. ‘To me, the metaphor is like going to a fire call — instead of pouring water on the fire, you’re pouring gasoline.’” Similarly, as Bajpai has reported, “Rep. Michael Wray, a Halifax County Democrat who was the only member of his party to sign onto the bill as a sponsor, ultimately voted against it. After the vote, Wray told reporters he had spoken to a sheriff in his district, who urged him not to vote for the repeal.”

Supporters of the bill, including Rep. Allen Chesser (R-Nash), presented the bill as “a ‘clean repeal’ of  ‘unnecessary’ checks that ‘removes work’ for sheriffs who say they could use the resources to better effect. ‘We will still have background checks,’ [Chesser] said,” according to Doyle’s reporting. Additionally, as reported by Bajpai, “Republicans touted the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association’s support for repealing the permit requirement. Some individual sheriffs have voiced different opinions, but GOP Rep. Keith Kidwell of Beaufort County said it was notable that the association had determined the permitting process was no longer necessary.” Kidwell also stated that “most criminals acquire their guns by breaking into cars and homes, and stealing them,” and went on to say that, “unless you’re going to have them, before they can steal the gun out of your car, fill out a pistol purchase permit … this law doesn’t do any good.”

After HB 50 passed the state house, Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action released a statement that includes this comment from Carey Rudell, a volunteer with the North Carolina Chapter of Moms Demand Action: “Today’s vote is simply shameful. […] Our current life-saving background check system has helped make North Carolina communities safer. This bill would open a loophole in our gun laws that would make it easy for convicted felons, domestic abusers, and gun traffickers to get handguns without a background check. North Carolina deserves lawmakers who put our safety first, not the gun industry’s interests. We look forward to working with Governor Cooper to find solutions that put North Carolina first.”

It is not yet clear how the State House and Senate will resolve the differences between the two bills, nor is it clear how Governor Cooper will respond to whichever bill eventually reaches his desk.

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