If one isn’t paying attention to Second Amendment issues, they might not know North Carolina has lost a lot of ground compared to other states over the past few decades. Our state doesn’t make any of the worst lists, but many rankings no longer put us near the top 10. Gun & Ammo magazine ranked N.C. 26 out of 50 for best states for gun owners in 2019.
North Carolina has a pretty strong concealed carry law, yet, amazingly, the state still requires the Jim Crow-era pistol permit to buy a handgun. The only way to bypass that is by having a state issued concealed-carry permit. Other Southern and many Midwestern states have already scrapped these laws, which are well known for their racist legacy of trying to keep firearms away from black Americans. Reason called it “the Klan’s favorite law” in 2005.
Another problem with the permit process: The Wake County Sheriff tried to use the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 to temporarily suspend pistol permits, essentially implementing a de-facto handgun purchase ban. A state Superior Court judge had to intervene to restore the rule of law and equal protection under the U.S. Constitution. Furthermore, while the permit cost of $5 is not an undue hindrance, what other inherent rights are you charged for by the government?
In recent years, Republicans haven’t done much to expand gun rights in North Carolina, preferring a more defensive strategy. This was true even during legislative supermajorities. Yet, it may be time to finally rethink this tactic given that states less red than N.C. have passed constitutional carry legislation over the past decade. Missouri and West Virginia even achieved bipartisan votes to override constitutional carry vetoes from Democrat governors.
Constitutional carry, sometimes called “permitless carry,” would simply allow for concealed carry without a state issued permit. States that have enacted this legislation have not seen an increase in violent crime, proving there’s no danger in expanding an inherent right enshrined in the Bill of Rights and the state constitution.
Vermont has had constitutional carry since it has been a state. Two other New England states, Maine and New Hampshire, passed this legislation in 2015 and 2017. North Carolinians need to ask their lawmakers why they are less deserving of these rights than many Northeasterners? Are we less capable of self-government or less knowledgeable of firearm safety?
Another reason the General Assembly should go on the offensive is that it’s unclear how aggressive the Biden White House will be in attacking the Second Amendment. Taken directly from his campaign website, Biden says he wants to restrict gun purchases to one per month and add a ban on the manufacture and sale of so-called assault weapons, a nebulous term often used for certain semi-automatic rifles.
Fortunately, since the Heller decision, the federal courts have been more favorable to protecting the plain meaning of the text of the Second Amendment. However, states can place regulations on firearms and federal overreach during a Biden-Harris administration is bound to rear its ugly head again.
It’s important that state legislators continue to expand something James Madison declared to be an “advantage” to Americans that “the Constitution preserves.” In “The Federalist Papers,” in what is an essential point, Madison goes on to explain that European countries don’t trust their citizens with arms because they are afraid of their subjects. Yet, over here, citizens should remember they are masters and not servants of the government.
An essential part of federalism is the state legislatures exerting their power against federal encroachment, especially if the issue has the backing of the Bill of Rights. North Carolinians should ask their legislatures why the state is falling behind on this issue, especially compared to many neighboring states?
North Carolinians should know they are only one election from going the way of Virginia last year, where the legislature passed seven-gun control bills. Finally, most North Carolinians know the long-established truth on this issue: More firearm regulations are ineffectual for preventing crime or public safety, it’s the criminals, not the law-abiding citizens, who eschew gun laws.
Ray Nothstine is Carolina Journal opinion editor.
This commentary first appeared in the February print edition of Carolina Journal.