- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 7, 2017

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Although the House gave initial approval to a bill Wednesday that would allow concealed handguns to be carried without a permit in certain places, the debate continues, with even some Republicans opposed to the measure.

The bill passed on a 65-54 vote, with all of the House Democrats and eight Republicans voting against the legislation, which would no longer require a permit to carry a concealed handgun in locations where it’s currently permissible to openly carry a gun.

This bill would “expand the opportunities for law-abiding citizens to be able to better protect themselves and their loved ones from harm, according to the liberties afforded by our Constitution,” bill sponsor Rep. Chris Millis, a Pender County Republican, told members during floor debate.

The vote, which was tentative- members are expected to cast a final House vote Thursday- raises questions whether it could withstand a potential veto by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who has expressed concerns about the measure. Any final bill still must get Senate approval as well.

Members went back and forth on the floor as they expressed their thoughts on the measure. Democrats raised concerns about safety and gun violence, proposing several amendments that Republican leaders used parliamentary maneuvers to block votes on.

Gun control advocates and even some law enforcement leaders have said they worry that if the bill passes, people would be able to carry concealed without having gone through training. Applicants must complete a firearms safety course to qualify for the concealed carry permit.

“If you’re going to own a gun … an instrument that can kill you, harm you or kill another human being, … you must own that gun responsibly,” said Democrat Rep. Billy Richardson of Cumberland County.

Republican Rep. John Faircloth of Guilford County, a former local police chief, who voted against the measure, also mentioned the training aspect while expressing his concerns about the bill.

This legislation “is not going to make a big dent in what might could happen anyway, but it does open up a lot of possibilities that I think we could probably close with a little more work on this bill, particularly in the area of requiring some kind of training,” Faircloth said.

With this bill, “almost anyone could carry a concealed, loaded gun in public without any training at all,” Americans for Responsible Solutions, a political action committee aimed at tightening gun laws, wrote in a recently released ad. The organization was co-founded by former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords of Arizona, who was wounded by a gunman in 2011.

But Catherine Mortensen, a spokeswoman with the National Rifle Association, told the Associated Press in an email that the training would still be necessary because the latest measure does not alter the current permitting process. People would still be able to obtain the concealed carry permit for out-of-state reciprocity and other purposes.

“A record number of Americans carry a firearm for personal protection because it is increasingly evident that law enforcement cannot always be there to protect us. This legislation simply expands self-defense options for law-abiding citizens,” Mortensen said in a statement.

According to the NRA’s website, about 12 states do not require a permit to conceal-carry a handgun.

The latest North Carolina measure features certain restrictions and applies to people 18 or older who aren’t otherwise prohibited by law to carry a firearm.

According to Millis, the change would have no effect on the state’s pistol-purchase permit. Under current law, a person must have either that permit or a concealed-carry permit to “sell, transfer or receive” a pistol in the state. The permits are issued by local sheriffs who conduct background checks and can deny issuance based on certain grounds.

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