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July 25, 2013

Officers weigh in on new gun laws

TARBORO — Edgecombe County's  top law enforcement officials have mixed emotion about a bill that will expand where concealed handguns are allowed.

On Tuesday, North Carolina lawmakers approved the bill, which will allow concealed-carry permit holders to take firearms into bars and restaurants and other places where alcohol is served as long as owners or organizers don’t expressly forbid it. Weapons will also be allowed at  parades and funeral processions.

The Republican-backed bill was approved by both  the House and Senate and now heads to Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk.

Edgecombe County Sheriff James Knight said he was totally against the portion of the bill that will allow concealed-carry permit holders in bars and restaurants. On the other hand he was for the right to bear arms.

"Alcohol and guns do not mix," Knight said. "If you do (mix them), there is a potential for big problems.

"But I would hate for an innocent person without a gun to be approached by a criminal with a gun and that innocent person doesn't have any means of protecting himself."

Tarboro Police Chief Damon Williams had not received the news until Wednesday. When he was told the bill was on the governor's desk, awaiting his signature, he said, "I hope he doesn't sign it. That is an awful idea. Whenever you mix firearms with alcohol. that is a catastrophe waiting to happen."

The bill will also allow concealed-carry permit holders to store weapons in locked cars on the campus of any public school or university, or a state government parking lot. That measure was approved despite the opposition from the police chiefs at all 16 campuses in the University of North Carolina system, who fear increased car break-ins and the potential proliferation of gun violence.

"This will place too many guns in the hands of inexperience gun carriers," Williams said. "What will happen if law enforcement responds to a scene where guns are involved? How are we going to determine who is the threat? I'm scared that someone is going to become a casualty."

The bill also clarifies state law to say permit holders can carry their firearms on trails, to public recreation areas and playgrounds.

The bill establishes uniform state requirements for reporting information about mental health and substance abuse court findings to the national instant criminal background check system and conform these requirements with federal firearms laws

The compromise bill dropped a provision approved by the Senate that would have repealed a long-standing requirement that those purchasing handguns undergo a background check and receive a permit issued by their local sheriff’s office.

That caused the North Carolina Sheriffs Association and Attorney General Roy Cooper to oppose the Senate version. McCrory also said he wanted to leave handgun licensing decisions with sheriffs.

Williams said he is not surprised that the bill passed but he is "disappointed." As a law enforcement officer, I didn't want to see that happen. Now we have to deal with the situations as we approach them.

(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)

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