A measure that lets people carry concealed firearms in more places and repeals a requirement to get a license to buy a handgun tentatively passed the North Carolina Senate Wednesday.
The Senate version broadens the scope of a bill that already passed the House. Democrats say the measure encourages more gun violence. Republican counter that the bill protects responsible gun owners from criminals.
The Senate's changes allow concealed-carry permit holders to store weapons in locked cars on the campus of any public university or school. It also clarifies state law to say permit holders can carry their firearms on trails, other passive recreation areas and playgrounds.
It keeps the House provision allowing concealed-carry permit holders to take weapons to places where alcohol is served or events that charge admission as long as an owner doesn't expressly forbid it. But the Senate's changes also add parades and funeral processions to the places people can take concealed weapons legally.
Police chiefs from the University of North Carolina system oppose the change, fearing car break-ins and other activity will lead to a proliferation of gun violence.
Also under the Senate bill, people could buy handguns without first obtaining a license from a county sheriff. Records of concealed-carry permits issued and weapons sales would not be open to the public.
The bill's backers argue it balances new safeguards and penalties with expansions of Second Amendment freedoms. The bill includes a number of tougher gun-related penalties and requires local clerks of court to report mental health findings to a national criminal background-check database.
Sen. Buck Newton, R-Wilson and the bill's Senate sponsor, called the license change an effort to modernize a Jim Crow era law that impedes law-abiding citizens. He said the law today creates a loophole that allows people later convicted of crimes to reuse the same license to obtain guns.
He argues the public-records provision prevents disclosures intended to "embarrass or intimidate" gun owners.
Sen. Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe, and other Democrats argued many good reasons exist for public access to concealed-carry information, from research to domestic violence proceedings.
"There are reasons these things are on the books, and it's not to punish someone or embarrass someone," he said. "I'm not embarrassed that I'm a gun owner."
Attorney General Roy Cooper opposes the repeal of the license requirement, which forces people to obtain a permit from a county sheriff. He argues it removes a key part of the screening process.
Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, D-Orange, unsuccessfully pushed for an amendment requiring owners to publicly post whether they allow firearms. She argued the bill is out of step with broader public opinion in North Carolina.
Republicans maintained that safety is enhanced with concealed-carry permit holders taking weapons to more places.
"Bad guys don't pay attention to our statutes," said Sen. Andrew Brock, R-Davie. "Law-abiding people need this legislation."
The bill will likely return for a final vote Thursday. The House will have to approve the Senate's changes.