RALEIGH, N.C. (AP/WNCN) — North Carolina’s Republican-controlled Senate voted Tuesday to override the Democratic governor’s first veto of the session on legislation to loosen gun restrictions, teeing up the House’s first test of party unity under new operating rules.
The Senate voted 30-19 along party lines to revive a package of gun access measures that would scrap a requirement that handgun buyers obtain a permit from their county sheriff.
“What we’re doing in this bill would not make individuals less safe,” said Sen. Danny Britt, a Robeson County Republican and primary sponsor.
While Republicans hold a supermajority in the state Senate — the three-fifths required to bypass a veto from Gov. Roy Cooper — they are one seat short of a similar majority in the House.
Three House Democrats joined all present Republicans in voting for the gun bill earlier this month, indicating that an override might be possible for the first time since 2018. GOP House Speaker Tim Moore has called their potential to pull in some Democratic votes a “working supermajority.”
The House is scheduled to hold an override vote Wednesday morning, Moore said.
The North Carolina director for Gunowners of America, Andrew Stevens, said the repeal of the state’s pistol purchase permit process “is something that needed to be done.”
Stevens said the current law allows the pistol permit to last for five years, a time frame during which he worries opens the door for those who would no longer qualify to still obtain a handgun through their active permit.
“Somebody that could get a permit today, become a prohibited person up to five years down the road, could use that permit to bypass a NICS check, so we feel we’re actually improving the background check system and keeping more prohibited people from getting a firearm,” Stevens said.
Meanwhile, the director for North Carolinians Against Gun Violence, Becky Ceartas, said that repealing the permit process “will increase gun violence deaths.”
She urged North Carolina House members to uphold the veto.
“Why on earth would anyone be for eliminating background checks like our PPP system? Our nation is grieving yet another school shooting and N.C. gun violence is at a record-setting high, and this is the Senate’s response?” Ceartas wrote in a statement. “It’s painfully obvious that we need to strengthen our gun laws, not repeal them. Instead, lawmakers voting for repeal are failing all North Carolinians and our children most of all.
New House rules passed earlier this year eliminated a 48-hour notice for override votes and enabled them to take place on the same day the bill is received from the Senate or the governor. Some override outcomes could come down to who is present on the chamber floor at the time of the vote.
While Republicans have said the sheriff screening process to buy a pistol is no longer necessary in light of significant updates to the national background check system, Democrats warned that without it, criminals and people with mental illnesses could more easily obtain weapons.
They said the repeal would create a loophole as background checks are not mandatory for private gun sales or exchanges between individuals, which require only the sheriff-issued permit.
Sen. Sydney Batch, a Wake County Democrat, reminded lawmakers that they were deciding whether to expand gun access a day after six people were killed in a school shooting in neighboring Tennessee.
Britt had urged the senators earlier Tuesday not to use the Tennessee shooting to “score political points.”
“While six families woke up this morning in Nashville grieving the agonizing loss of their children and loved ones, we are here today to make it easier for people hell-bent on causing mass carnage to buy a gun,” Batch said.
Bill supporters argue private exchanges make up a very small percentage of total gun sales and that criminals probably aren’t obtaining permits anyway.
Cooper, in 2021, successfully blocked standalone versions of the pistol purchase permit repeal and another provision allowing guns on some school properties where religious services are held.
Guns would not be permitted on campus during school hours or when students are present for extracurricular activities. Gun owners can already carry at freestanding churches that opt in.
Cooper called it “outrageous” that GOP leaders announced the Senate vote in the immediate aftermath of the Tennessee school shooting.
“Hours after children were shot to death in their school, NC GOP leaders announced a vote to eliminate strong NC background checks and make it easier for dangerous people to buy guns and take them on some school grounds,” the governor said in a tweet.
Hannah Schoenbaum is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.