The General Assembly passed a new firearms bill Monday night.
Legislators say House Bill 562 has come a long way since the House’s earlier controversial versions. In addition to full Republican support, the gun bill got favorable votes from seven Senate Democrats when it passed on Monday night. But Orange County Democrat Valerie Foushee was not among them.
“I know that there were efforts to take away some of the most concerning parts of that bill,” Foushee said. “But still there are issues that concern me as they relate to what sheriffs are able to do in terms of background checks.”
Past versions would have phased out local sheriff departments’ role in doing background checks on people who apply for handgun permits. The version that passed Monday allows sheriffs to continue to provide background checks, but using information from only the last five years.
Foushee, a former administrator with the Chapel Hill Police Department, says sheriffs often have a deep knowledge of their communities that goes beyond five years.
“I know that they use that information to keep us safe,” Foushee said. “And so I think that we tie their hands when we say, ‘You can only consider information that is dated between this time and that time.’”
Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood agrees with Foushee that it’s in the community’s interest to let sheriffs make decisions about who should have a gun permit.
“There’s nobody within the county who is more in touch with what is going on in their community than the local sheriffs,” Blackwood said. “I’m intimately familiar with the residents of my community to the point that we do have the opportunity to weigh in on whether someone is, what I would call, fit emotionally, mentally and physical to possess a firearm.”
Blackwood says he’d like to look back further than five years, but he’s comfortable with the compromise in the new legislation.
“We’re not talking about limiting your rights under the Constitution,” Blackwood said. “We’re talking about making certain that those people who deserve to have firearms under those constitutional guarantees are protected.”
Orange County’s House Representative Graig Meyer is, like Foushee, less pleased with the final version of the bill. He says he’s concerned about a provision that allows people with concealed carry permits to bring a firearm onto school property in response to some life-threatening situations.
“If someone has a gun on school property, they’re required to lock it in the trunk of their car,” Meyer said. “This bill would change it so that if you believe there’s an imminent threat, you’d be able to retrieve the weapon from your car in order to respond to the threat.”
Meyer says he believes this provision could give rise to even more dangerous situations, but that his Republican counterparts see things differently.
“There’s a belief that’s been expressed by some of the supporters of these gun bills that having more weapons more easily available in public makes our communities safer,” Meyer explained. “And I just don’t believe that, and that’s why I voted against 562 when it came through the House.”
House Bill 562 also allows judges and certain other public officials to carry concealed weapons in the court room. The bill passed 40-9 and is on its way to the governor’s desk.