North Carolina's House sent a sweeping firearms bill to the governor's desk on Wednesday that would discard a longstanding requirement that handgun buyers obtain a permit from their county sheriff.
The House approved the legislation 70-44, with three Democrats and all present Republicans voting yes. The limited bipartisan support signals a potential override of any veto by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who in 2021 blocked standalone versions of the pistol purchase permit repeal and another provision allowing more people to carry concealed firearms while attending religious services where private or charter schools also meet.
Republican gains in the midterm elections landed them within one seat of a veto-proof supermajority. Cooper's office did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the bill.
The proposal would make it so sheriffs no longer have to perform evaluations of an applicant's character and mental wellness before they can purchase a handgun.
Supporters of the bill say the permit requirement has become duplicative in light of digitized mental health records and thorough updates to the national background check system. Rep. Jeff McNeely, an Iredell County Republican, said it would streamline the process for law-abiding gun buyers.
"It just allows everybody, every citizen in the state of North Carolina, to have their constitutional right granted to them so that they can protect their self," McNeely said.
While people who buy from a gun store or a licensed dealer would still be subject to a national background check, Democrats raised alarms again Wednesday that background checks are not required for private exchanges between two individuals. Private sales only require buyers to obtain a sheriff-issued permit, or face a misdemeanor charge.
Rep. Pricey Harrison of Guilford County said the repeal would create a loophole that could enable dangerous individuals and those with mental health issues to more easily obtain weapons.
"The sheriffs know best back home who should and should not be carrying a pistol," Harrison said during floor debate. "There's so much more we could be doing about keeping our communities safe. But unleashing and letting access to guns to individuals who absolutely pose a danger to themselves and others is a real problem."
Becky Ceartas, executive director of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence, said she was disappointed that the permit system's importance in suicide prevention was "getting lost" in the debate.
The North Carolina Sheriffs' Association supports the repeal, but some lawmakers said their local sheriffs had approached them with concerns.
House Speaker Tim Moore did not allow Democrats to introduce amendments on the floor Wednesday, citing parliamentary rules that give the chairperson discretion. House Minority Leader Robert Reives said that while he was informed of Moore's decision, he understands Democrats' frustrations and desire to be heard.