On Monday, April 30, the North Carolina House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on House Bill 1287, introduced by Representative Ronnie Sutton (D-47), which seeks to create a new statewide database to which sheriffs would report all individuals who have been denied a permit to purchase a pistol.
And while this legislation may seem benign to law-abiding gun owners, as they say, the devil is in the details. The problem is not, necessarily, with the proposal, but with the current approval process for purchase permits. Originally enacted in 1919--long before anyone imagined the possibility of centralized computer databases of criminal records--the law requires anyone who wishes to purchase a pistol to acquire a permit from the sheriff of the county in which that person resides.
At the time, sheriffs likely had the most immediate access to information that would indicate an applicant had a violent criminal record, so it would seem logical that they would be the best source to try to determine if an individual had a history that indicated he or she should be prohibited from acquiring a handgun.
Today, however, there is a national database law enforcement may access, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), to determine if an individual is statutorily prohibited from purchasing or possessing a handgun--or any firearm, for that matter.
Unfortunately, the current permit to purchase process allows sheriffs to deny a permit not just to people statutorily prohibited from purchasing or possessing a pistol, but also allows denials for random, arbitrary reasons.
Under the current permit process, a permit applicant must not only be free of any statutory disqualifications for purchasing or possessing any firearm--including pistols--but he or she must also prove to the sheriff "by affidavits, oral evidence, or otherwise, as to the good moral character of the applicant." It is this vague standard where problems arise. A sheriff could deny a permit simply because he or she feels the individual should not possess a pistol, for whatever reason, in spite of the fact the applicant may have no history of criminal activity.
It is important to remember that the Right to Keep and Bear Arms is protected in both the U.S. and North Carolina Constitutions, and reasons for denying this right must be carefully considered, and carefully spelled out. Federal and state law do this.
Allowing sheriffs to deny a permit to purchase a pistol for anything other than clearly defined standards is contrary to the protections that are constitutionally enshrined.
But what makes matters worse is that HB 1287 would not only establish a new database where arbitrary denials are entered, but the information, as mandated by this legislation, would remain in the new database for eight (8) years. An individual who has been arbitrarily denied a permit to purchase would have that cloud hanging over him or her every time he or she applies for a permit, even if that person moves to a new county where the sheriff does not have a problem with people possessing handguns for lawful purposes. The new sheriff would still see the applicant was once denied a permit, and may deny based on that little bit of information. Sheriffs are already tasked with a great deal of responsibility, as well as granted a great deal of power and authority. The responsibility of determining who should or should not be permitted to exercise a constitutionally protected right should not weigh on these public servants. The authority to arbitrarily or randomly deny a law-abiding individual the ability to exercise a right protected by both the U.S. and North Carolina Constitutions should not be enhanced by allowing them to make decisions that could result in a cloud of confusion hovering over a law-abiding citizen for eight years.
Please call your Representative at (919) 733-4111 and urge him or her to oppose HB 1287.