RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Senate Judiciary Committee added new language to a House bill expanding gun rights Tuesday to include doing away with North Carolina's current system of pistol purchase permits.
Under current law, North Carolinians must get a permit from their local sheriff's office to buy a pistol. The restriction does not apply to rifles and shotguns. The Senate addition to House Bill 937 would require a concealed weapons permit or a background check to buy a pistol - but no permit from a sheriff's office. Records of concealed-carry permits issued and weapons sales would not be open to the public.
"We need to know who has a firearm," said Pamela Moses-Snipes of Winston-Salem. "If anybody is allowed to just go and get a firearm that could be catastrophic."
The wide-ranging bill also endorses a broader approach to weapon storage on school campuses and carrying concealed firearms at certain events. It also maintains new penalties and safeguards in the House bill while toughening offenses for permit holders who violate existing prohibitions.
Both bills have the support of gun rights groups and the North Carolina Sheriffs Association, though the association later said it is opposed to the pistol purchase permit part of the bill. University of North Carolina police chiefs, however, oppose the bill - calling it a threat to student safety.
"Allowing weapons on campus would diminish that sense of seriousness from the presence of weapons, thereby making us more vulnerable to those who intend to commit harmful acts," offered UNCG Police Chief Jamie Herring.
But supporters say it would help protect students from violence.
"The fact is, concealed handgun permit holders, these are 21-year-olds who have training and background checks are not only prohibited from protecting themselves not only in campus, but also if they live off campus," said F. Paul Valone with the group Grassroots NC.
University of North Carolina lobbyist Drew Moretz said UNC doesn't oppose the bill but fears the rate of car break-ins on campuses that otherwise have lower crime than the general population will lead to more guns in the hands of criminals.
"I have a problem with seeing a bill that is trying to cover two different things," said Kay Duncan with Brass Balls Pawn in Winston-Salem. Duncan, a gun rights advocate likes the idea of eliminated the pistol permit but questions the idea of allowing concealed guns in cars on college campus. "If people know that the students can have a gun and leave it in the car and if anyone knows that person has a gun, it's going to disappear."
The Senate's changes would allow any permit holder to store a weapon in a locked car on the campus of any public school. The House's version applies only to public colleges and universities. Both versions of the bill would allow private schools to opt out of that provision.
The Senate bill keeps the House provision allowing permit holders to carry weapons in places where alcohol is served or events that charge admission as long as an owner doesn't expressly forbid it. But the Senate's changes also add parades and funeral processions to the places people can take concealed weapons legally.
Both versions of the bill would allow permit holders to store weapons in the parking lots of state government buildings and limit local authority to ban concealed weapons in public places. Both versions also toughen penalties for convicted felons who used firearms in their crimes and require local clerks of court to report mental health findings to a national criminal background check database.
Sen. Buck Newton, R-Wilson and the bill's Senate sponsor, argued the bill strikes a balance between enforcement and promoting responsible gun ownership, which he said has been neglected under decades of Democratic control of state government.
Gregg Stahl, a lobbyist for the North Carolina Sheriffs Association, said the group supports the bill "on the whole" but was initially concerned with the repeal of permit requirements to purchase handguns.
"(But) this does look to be attempting to align this more with the way permits are given for long guns and high-powered rifles," Stahl said.
Gail Neely, the executive director of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence, questioned the popular appeal of expanding guns to bars, restaurants and college campuses. She said gun violence is surpassing automobile fatalities in other states that have relaxed gun laws.
"This is ridiculous," she said. "There is no credible evidence that this bill will make us safer in North Carolina. We have tons of evidence to show it may not, in fact, make us safer."
The Senate bill passed on a voice vote and now heads to the full Senate.
Associated Press Reporter Chris Kardish and WTVD contributed to this story