North Carolina experienced a 19.2% spike in background checks for gun purchases in 2023, according to FBI data, the third highest rate of all 50 states. The only larger increases were in North Dakota (37.3%), and Hawaii (26.1%.) Overall, only six states saw increased gun sales nationwide. 

CJ spoke with Grassroots North Carolina (GRNC) president F. Paul Valone for insights about what could be behind the spike.

“What led to the increase in gun sales (particularly handgun sales) was our passage of Senate Bill 41, the repeal of the archaic Jim Crow-era pistol purchase system, for two reasons,” asserted Valone. “First, certain urban sheriffs (primarily Garry McFadden in Mecklenburg and former Sheriff Gerald Baker in Wake, but we’ve also gotten reports from Buncombe and Guilford) were doing their best to obstruct and delay pistol purchase permits that, by law, should have been issued in 14 days.”

“Second, many people didn’t want to go through the hassle of getting purchase permits, leading to a suppressive effect in gun purchases.” continued Valone. “If you ask any gun dealer, as soon as the repeal took effect, gun sales exploded. In other states, sales were down slightly from the previously record sales which resulted from civil unrest in 2021 and 2022.”

Valone and GRNC hosted a panel discussion at the recent Carolina Liberty Conference hosted last month in Raleigh.

In a 2022 Supreme Court case, NYSPA vs. BRUEN, justices ruled that a New York law requiring citizens to prove special need for a concealed carry license distinguishable from the general public was unconstitutional. Panelists at the Carolina Liberty Conference believe this sets important precedents for the 2nd amendment going forward.

The panel, entitled “Staying Out of Jail Amid Rapidly Changing Gun Laws,” was moderated by Valone, overseeing discussion by panelists Greg Wallace, Campbell University Constitutional Law Professor, and John Pierce, Virginia-based gun rights attorney.

“Most recently, SCOTUS struck down New York state’s restrictive handgun law which required a specific need to carry a handgun outside the home in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association vs. Bruen. Often called NYSRPA vs. BRUEN.” said Valone at the beginning of the panel, “but Bruen had far reaching implications beyond the New York law. For starters, it, for the first time, established the right not only to keep arms in the home but to bear arms outside the home.” 

Valone detailed many current legal battles regarding guns including the bump stock ban, the 1994 lautenberg law, and the ATF reclassification of AR-15 style pistols equipped with pistol stabilizing braces as short barreled rifles. He congratulated North Carolina for repealing the pistol purchase permit law in early 2023. 

Wallace took the podium first. In regards to the Bruen decision, Wallace said, “In Bruen the court rejected this whole framework of scrutiny levels, tiers of scrutiny, in favor of an approach that focuses on the Second Amendments text as informed by history.”  

Wallace added that because of the Bruen decision the government must justify their regulations by proving that they are consistent with the nation’s historical tradition of firearms regulation. This means that today’s gun laws must have a historical parallel for it to be justified. 

“There are two ways that this historical test operates. Sometimes there are, what we might call, historical twins. There is a law that passed today and a nearly identical law maybe had been passed in the early 1800s.” said Wallace, “Sometimes with modern advances the court says [with] unprecedented societal concerns and dramatic technological changes, sometimes the issues are very different than what the early founding and following generations faced. So, then, the court says, you have to reason by analogy. So what is happening now in these litigations is that the government is having to go and do some historical research about firearms laws that are sufficiently analogous to the modern law that is being challenged.”

Attorney Pierce also took to reinforcing the significance of the new legal precedent.

“I am an attorney who practices, almost exclusively, firearms law, but only at the state level in Virginia,” stated Pierce. “Having said that, Bruen trickles down into the states, it has been the definitive ruling for gun rights in my lifetime.”

Pierce discussed the challenges being made to gun laws. He listed a few challenges in which gun rights have been preserved such as Texas striking down bans of handgun purchases by 18-20 year olds in Texas, an injunction against the arm brace rule in the fifth circuit court, and important legal rulings such as Vanderstok vs. Garland.  

Pierce elaborated the Lautenberg amendment and misdemeanor crimes leading to the removal of someone’s right to buy firearms for the rest of their life.  

“Every once in a while I’ll get a panicked phone call from someone who is in a gun store and they have been denied a purchase, and in Virginia if you are denied a purchase the troopers show up and charge you with perjury on a form, felony perjury, so it is a very serious matter to get denied a firearms purchase in Virginia,” said Pierce. “So they’re standing there and they’re like I don’t understand, I don’t have any felonies, I don’t have any mental health adjudications, and it turns out they have a common law spitting on the sidewalk conviction from South Carolina from 1970.” 

During the Q&A session, the panelists discussed the issue of medical marijuana and how that may affect people’s ability to purchase guns firearms.

Pierce said, “The part that gets people who are using legally in the states or with a medical marijuana card, is that it says ‘are you addicted or an unlawful user of’ and it’s the unlawful user of part, because federal law still makes it unlawful that sweeps those people in.”

North Carolina’s spike in NICS background checks tracks with recent reporting that gun stores are seeing increases sales despite the high-sales marks made in recent years.