Some have called for “constitutional carry” in North Carolina. They advocate for the right of each citizen to carry firearms, whether openly or concealed, without a permit or other hindrance from government. This is seen as a necessary corollary to the right to keep and bear arms under the federal and state constitutions. The history and constitutional development of North Carolina denies this.
Public weapons possession was generally prohibited in England since the Statute of Northampton (1328), which forbade most people “to go nor ride armed by night nor by day, in fairs, markets, nor in the presence of the justices or other ministers, nor in no part elsewhere, upon pain to forfeit their armor to the king.”
The first laws enacted in North Carolina were in 1669 by the colonial government on the Albemarle. It would have enforced this English statute as part of the common law. As of 1776 North Carolina has recognized as a misdemeanor “going about armed to the terror of the people”.
In 1865 the Civil War concluded four years of war with the surrender at Appomattox. Raleigh was occupied by Sherman’s army when President Lincoln was assassinated. It was only by the grace of God that Raleigh was not looted and burned in reprisal. Federal troops stayed in the South for 12 years, until 1877, helping to keep the peace and enforce newly established rights for African Americans under the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments. Ratification of these amendments was a condition of readmission to the union for states that had seceded.
In 1868, a constitutional convention held in Raleigh adopted Section 24 (now 30) of the Declaration of Rights.
Section 24. A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; and, as standing armies, in time of peace, are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be kept up, and the military should be kept under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.
The election of 1868 found the first Republican governor, William Holden, with Republican majorities in the state House and Senate. These majorities included many black Republicans, and also white Republicans from the western counties where there was pro-union sentiment before, during, and after the war. The Supreme Court remained solidly Democratic.
After 1868, the Ku Klux Klan was on the rise. Gov. Holden repeatedly clashed with the Supreme Court. He ignored writs of habeas corpus that had been used to protect the Klan. Holden used pots of state money that he could find (but were not appropriated) to buy munitions and to pay the militia to combat the Klan.
The “Kirk-Holden War” of 1870 began when a Republican senator went to the Caswell County courthouse to find out what Democrats were planning. He was assassinated. “War” ensued, with skirmishes between the Klan and the state militia. Republicans lost the election of 1870. Gov. Holden was the first American governor impeached, convicted, and removed from office.
North Carolina was not alone in having problems with the Klan. In 1871 the Ku Klux Klan Act was passed by the U.S. Congress. Klansmen rode about, often at night, with weapons concealed under white sheets. They also carried weapons openly, in order to intimidate local law enforcement and Republicans, both black and white.
In 1876, changes to the state constitution were adopted. This change to the Declaration of Rights was offered by a Republican senator from Mecklenburg who was aligned with African Americans. It added to the Constitution:
Nothing herein shall justify the practice of carrying concealed weapons, or prevent the General Assembly from enacting penal statutes against that practice.
As of 1879, statutes provided that it was illegal to carry concealed weapons:
If any one, except when on his own premises, shall carry concealed about his person any pistol, bowie knife, dirk, dagger, slungshot, loaded cane, brass, iron or metallic knuckles or razor or other deadly weapon of like kind, he shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and fined or imprisoned at the discretion of the court. And if any one, not being on his own lands, shall have about his person any such deadly weapon, such possession shall be prima facie evidence of the concealment thereof. This section shall not apply to the following persons: officers of the state, or of any county, city or town, charged with the execution of the laws of the state, when acting in the discharge of their official duties.
Even though federal troops left in 1877, black Republicans retained some political power, culminating in the election of 1896. Republicans elected a governor and, in coalition with Populists, elected majorities again to the state House and Senate. The largest city at the time, Wilmington, had a Republican (both black and white) government.
The white majority of North Carolinians was not happy. Josephus Daniels, editor of the Raleigh News & Observer; along with F.M. Simmons, chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party, hatched a plot to inflame white citizens, promoting white supremacy along with anti-Republican propaganda. One tactic was to spread false tales of prominent black men raping white women.
In 1898 this culminated in a coup d’état against the government of Wilmington. Violence, including use of one of the first “machine guns,” was used. Between 50 and 100 were murdered. Most were black Republicans and their families. Josephus Daniels, F.M. Simmons, and the “Red Shirts” began a statewide campaign to intimidate black Republican voters, take away their right to vote, and make them second-class citizens — in law as well as in fact. This is known as “Jim Crow” and lasted in North Carolina from 1900 until well into the 1960s.
The 1876 amendment to Section 30 of the Declaration of Rights retained the right of the government to restrict “concealed carry” throughout North Carolina. After more than 15 years of violence, including open warfare and clandestine terrorism, the people had had enough.
If proponents of “constitutional carry” want to try their hand at an amendment to our state constitution that reverses this, they face a daunting task.