By MIRANDA BAINES
THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
Republicans in the House Wednesday pressed on with legislation that would expand public locations where concealed weapon permit holders can carry handguns while toughening penalties for those who commit crimes with a firearm. House Bill 937 was approved on a voice vote along party lines and is headed to the House floor.
The recommendations in the bill would build on changes approved in 2011 by the General Assembly, which expanded homeowners’ ability to use a gun for the purpose of self-defense, as well as locations where concealed permit holders are allowed to carry pistols, including state parks.
The proposed legislation would allow permit holders to carry weapons in a restaurant where alcohol is served or at a gathering where admission is charged, unless the establishment specifically prohibits concealed weapons. The law would also allow permit holders to keep their concealed weapons in a locked vehicle on a public university campus or state government parking lot.
Local law enforcement officials had mixed reactions to the legislation.
“The last thing we need is people being able to carry concealed weapons in more locations. I think the law is lenient enough as it is,” said Tarboro Police Chief Damon Williams. “I would not be in favor of that kind of legislation in North Carolina. I can see it presenting more problems than it solves.”
Another part of HB 937 recommends increasing prison terms for felonies involving firearms, and Williams said he is in favor of that. Those convicted of the most violent class of felonies would see an increase in prison time of six years compared to five years now, and those convicted of lesser felonies could expect one to three years to be added to their prison sentence.
“To toughen those laws is a step in the right direction,” said Williams, adding that toughening the sentences could be a deterrent for crime involving firearms.
“If they’re going to receive a tougher penalty, for some of them, it will make them think twice,” said the police chief.
While Edgecombe County Sheriff James Knight does not agree with all parts HB 937, he said the bill has some “good components.”
“What makes the bill a ‘go’ for us is the mental health part that is attached to it,” said Knight.
The mental health portion of the bill would require court clerks to quickly enter into a national criminal background database whether a criminal suspect has been committed to a mental health facility, found not guilty by reason of insanity or determined to be mentally incompetent. Knight would like to have the ability to check the mental health background of persons applying for pistol permits.
“I support the Constitutional 2nd Amendment,” said Knight. For some people, the sheriff said he would be fine with them carrying a concealed weapon at any location. For others, he believes carrying a concealed weapon is not the best idea.
Knight said he doesn’t have a problem with the portion of the bill that would allow employees at an institution of higher education who live in an on-campus residence to carry a weapon on their residential premises. On the other hand, he is uneasy about concealed weapons permit holders being able to carry guns into restaurants where alcohol is served.
“Alcohol and guns don’t mix. We’re a little leery on that,” said Knight. Williams concurred, saying that mixing guns and alcohol is “the last thing you want to do.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.