- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 16, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - A state House coalition rejected proposed changes Tuesday to North Carolina gun rules that would have let lawmakers carry concealed weapons in the legislative complex and phase out an existing requirement that prospective handgun buyers obtain a sheriff’s permit.

On a mostly party-line vote of 78-37, the full House gave initial approval to the wide-ranging gun measure written by Republicans, which makes several changes to North Carolina’s gun rules. Some of them eased restrictions on people legally allowed to hold concealed weapons.

But all Democrats joined many Republicans as a bipartisan coalition in passing several key amendments that scaled back the scope of the bill as sought by gun-rights advocates and some GOP allies.

Two successful amendments eliminated a provision that would have repealed in 2021 the pistol permit application system run by the sheriffs. The North Carolina Sheriffs Association and Gov. Pat McCrory opposed repealing the permit system.

Another amendment eradicated a proposal to give lawmakers and General Assembly staff members with concealed weapons permits to wear their guns at the Legislative Building.

“There are places where we don’t need guns,” said amendment sponsor Rep. Leo Daughtry, R-Johnston, adding things are decided by debate at the legislature. Other lawmakers said they worried colleagues would accidentally misfire their weapons during a high-pressure situation involving an intruder.

But Rep. Jeff Collins, R-Nash, said concealed weapons would serve as a deterrent to outsiders thinking of causing violence inside the building. The Legislative Building is known for constituents walking freely to speak to their legislators.

“This building belongs to the people,” said Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven, who supported the concealed weapons option. “I want to keep it that way.”

Sheriffs currently decide whether to issue a concealed weapons permit or a pistol permit to someone wishing to buy a handgun. The permit, requiring a criminal background check, would have been phased out in earlier language of the bill coming out of committee.

Supporters of repealing the permit system said a national criminal check would have still been required from someone seeking to buy a gun from a federally licensed dealer - though not in a private gun sale under the proposal.

An initial amendment by rules chairman Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett to keep requiring a pistol permit in any private sale was approved 87-29. Another proposal by Rep. Allen McNeill, R-Randolph, to restore the permit for all pistol sales was approved 77-38.

McNeill, a former chief sheriff’s deputy, acknowledged the national criminal check system lacked sufficient information about North Carolina cases because state law enforcement agencies needed to send more data.

Lawmakers seeking to do away with the pistol permit system cited the Second Amendment in urging colleagues to retain the repeal.

“We are inserting the government in between two private parties conducting a transaction between that is perfectly legal,” said Rep. Dana Bumgardner, R-Gaston.

National gun-control groups praised approval of the amendments.

House leaders “stood up for responsibility and stood up to the special interests who want to create new loopholes in North Carolina’s laws,” said former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, co-founder of gun-control group Americans for Responsible Solutions and wounded in a 2011 shooting in Arizona that killed six people.

A final House vote on the full bill was expected Wednesday before it goes to the Senate.

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