Opinion: CJ Opinion

Time to pass constitutional carry in North Carolina

Second Amendment to the US Constitution text on parchment paper
Second Amendment to the US Constitution text on parchment paper

When it comes to an inherent right, nothing is regulated quite like the Second Amendment. In North Carolina, one can legally walk around with a firearm strapped to their hip, but as soon as the gun is covered by a jacket or sweatshirt, it’s no longer legal without a state-issued permit. That doesn’t make a lot of sense. Constitutional carry simply means if a person can lawfully own a gun, they can also conceal that firearm without a permission slip from the state.

Constitutional carry is growing in popularity and last month Utah and Montana became the 17th and 18th states to make it law. Tennessee or Indiana are likely to be next to pass a permitless carry bill. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee is a strong advocate, and Indiana’s governor appears to be open to supporting it. Florida and Texas are real possibilities, too. In the liberal Northeast, three New England states, New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont, already allow for constitutional carry. Missouri and West Virginia passed constitutional carry by overriding vetoes from Democrat governors. Vermont has recognized permitless carry (concealed or open) since its inception as a state in 1791.

The N.C. House passed a constitutional carry bill in 2017, but it bogged down in the state Senate. Unfortunately, Republicans couldn’t even unify to pass it with supermajorities when Republican Pat McCrory was governor.

State Rep. Keith Kidwell, R-Beaufort, introduced H.B. 197 this week, a bill titled the “NC Constitutional Carry Act.” Constitutional carry doesn’t void any federal firearm laws and doesn’t make it any easier for anybody that can’t legally own a gun able to obtain one. Most important, states that have enacted permitless carry have not seen increases in violent crime.

Concealed-carry permits will still be an important function in North Carolina if this legislation becomes law. Those that now have a permit or obtain one will have broader freedom on the locations that they can conceal their firearm. Furthermore, those with little to no firearm training should be encouraged to go through the permit process for safety and instruction purposes. The permit would still hold considerable value because it offers reciprocity between states and North Carolinians who hold a permit can bypass the Jim Crow era county pistol permit process. That law, scrapped by other Southern states, was dubbed “the Klan’s favorite law” by Reason in 2005.

While not every supporter of the Second Amendment and gun rights agree on constitutional carry, the final arbiter should be the U.S. Constitution. The plain meaning of the text is clear … “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” As Stephen P. Halbrook, a senior fellow and attorney at the Independent Institute noted, “The phrase ‘the people’ meant the same thing in the Second Amendment as it did in the First, Fourth, Ninth, and Tenth Amendments — that is, each and every free person.”

Individual states should be looking to expand the scope of more contemporary understandings of the Second Amendment, orienting more toward the intent of the American Founders. Especially since there is now a U.S. Supreme Court that has been friendlier to the plain meaning of the text in recent years. The Biden administration has signaled it could use executive orders to restrict an inherent right, so it’s essential that states be prepared to pushback against unconstitutional overreach.

Most important, constitutional carry is a reminder that citizens are the masters over our government — not the politicians or bureaucrats. The Bill of Rights is a reminder the government’s role in our day-to-day life is one that should be oriented toward securing and not restricting rights. Lawmakers that don’t understand this first principle should be put on notice. Those who are law-abiding citizens should not be made into a criminal simply because they decide to conceal their weapon without a piece of paper from the government. A bevy of laws are being put forward in North Carolina and in states across the nation to strengthen the Second Amendment, but nothing bolsters the plain meaning of the text than a bill that actualizes an inherent right for millions of Americans.

Ray Nothstine is Carolina Journal opinion editor.