On Feb. 13, tragedy struck Michigan State University. Three students died and another five were injured by a gunman unaffiliated with the university. Usually, such a horrific event creates a public push for more restrictions on firearms. Gun control legislation was passed last summer in response to the mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and in Uvalde, Texas.
However, the same day that students in Michigan died, members of the North Carolina General Assembly made gun ownership a bit easier in North Carolina. Their decision could have dangerous consequences.
Michigan State University is not the only place to experience gun violence this year. The weekend following the deaths at Michigan State, there were 10 other mass shootings across the U.S., the most in any weekend in 2023 so far. According to the Gun Violence Archive, this is an unusually high number of shootings for February.
The General Assembly passed a piece of legislation that would repeal the Pistol Purchase Permit. Leaders described the bill as “common sense gun reform,” but they will be making some major changes if it is successfully enacted.
North Carolina currently requires potential gun owners to get a permit from their local sheriff to be able to legally buy and own a pistol. The restriction on gun ownership dates back to 1905, starting on a local level and going statewide in 1919. The application can be completed online now and only costs $5 in Wake County. Usually, they can approve an application within two weeks, and the permit does not need to be renewed unless another firearm is purchased.
There has been criticism against the pistol permit over the years similar to most gun control measures. Critics claim that requiring a permit to obtain a pistol infringes upon North Carolinians’ Second Amendment rights. The simple process puts a barrier between people and guns that some find obtrusive.
The policy was also created at the same time as the Jim Crow era in the South, which has given it a poor racial track record. There is an apparent disparity between the number of gun permits allowed to white people versus Black people.
All public policies, including the pistol permit, should be revised and revisited to correct possible racial injustices. Despite the drawbacks of the policy, it has a long history of working well and has many benefits that should not be ignored. The permitting process ensures legal gun buyers receive a criminal background check before they can obtain their firearm, and it prevents quick decisions to obtain deadly weapons — it must be a planned purchase. Many studies show that more guns spur criminal activity, so measures to slow purchases can make a very positive impact.
North Carolina is also missing gun ownership requirements present in other states. In California and Washington, gun owners must complete a gun safety course and get a certificate before they can get a gun. New York, Illinois and Massachusetts require a gun license which, unlike a permit, must be renewed periodically to remain valid. According to Gifford’s Law Center, North Carolina ranks 21st in the nation for both gun safety and gun deaths. Without the gun permit policy, North Carolina could easily become part of the bottom half of states in terms of gun safety.
Over the past several decades, national Gallup polls have consistently shown that over half of Americans believe we need stricter gun laws, even as gun ownership has increased.
This is not the first time there has been an attempt to weaken gun laws in North Carolina. Lawmakers introduced the repeal of the pistol permit first in 2021, but it was unsuccessful because of a veto by Gov. Roy Cooper. The General Assembly now has enough representatives in favor of looser gun laws that they can override any attempt by the governor to stop the repeal.
The pistol permitting system should be revised to account for racial bias, but it also keeps North Carolinians safe. With the law in place, guns are still accessible for purchase for most law-abiding citizens if they wish. In a time of rising gun violence, repealing the pistol permit is a step backward for the well-being of our state.
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