RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – The North Carolina House took its vote on ending the pistol permits on private gun sales that have been carried out by sheriffs across the state.

Following a step taken last week by the Senate – which passed Senate Bill 41 – the House voted to abolish background checks that the sheriffs’ association wanted to end and that proponents of change felt were duplicative to federal law already in place to register gun owners.

The difference is that House Bill 50 is a terse version of the four-layered bill passed in the Senate, sort of like the case with Medicaid expansion, which the House passed in a stripped-down version that may not make muster with the Senate’s desires for additional expansions of health care.

HB 50 is only about a half-page document that simply says it’s a “repeal of the pistol purchase permit,” but it was adopted on a vote of 67-48, along party lines, after a long and spirited debate among its sponsors and those who think the checks add a layer of protection for unlicensed and private gun sales that are not subject to the federal background checks through the federal NICS system.

Rep. Allen Chesser (R-Nash), one of its primary sponsors called the bill a “clean repeal” of  “unnecessary” checks that “removes work” for sheriffs who say they could use the resources to better effect. “We will still have background checks,” he said.

But not all sheriffs apparently support the change. Representatives from Guilford, Forsyth, Durham and Wake counties said their sheriffs were not in favor of ending checks. Rep. Zack Hawkins (D-Durham) asked if counties such as his could opt-out of this change and continue to do the checks. Chesser, after checking with staff, said no, citing statute that doesn’t allow for local opt-out of state laws.

Each of the maybe two dozen speakers was passionate – a couple seemed almost angry – and some admitted they didn’t understand why this change was appropriate, because the sheriffs’ checks were considered more diligent and thorough.

State Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Greensboro)

The first person to debate the bill was Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Greensboro), who said she was a “proud gun owner” but found this to be “the wrong bill and the wrong timing.”

She cited statistics from mass shootings, from gun violence deaths and that gun violence is the “leading cause of death of children and teens,” which she called “an alarming fact.

“It’s often said that this system is duplicative of the federal system,” she said. “The federal system doesn’t require background checks on unlicensed parties, not on personal sales or gun shows. … This requires a more thorough check.

“When Missouri did this – repealed pistol permits – their gun deaths went up by 30%. I submit to you that the evidence is compelling and overwhelming that this will cause more deaths of North Carolinians.”

Rep. Jay Adams (R-Catawba) was an impassioned speaker who took the floor more than once to argue in favor of the bill.

“I have observed in past few years that people couldn’t get their pistol purchase permits,” he said. “There are 16 million hits for people who want to buy firearms. … People are afraid of crime and have a Second Amendment right to defend themselves. … Sheriffs say this is not an effective way to fight crime.

“Our legislation doesn’t affect East St. Louis or San Francisco or Los Angeles, where most of big numbers [of deaths] are,” he said. “We have had like 1,200 deaths from firearms, and 66% were suicides.”

State Rep. Amber Baker (D-Winston-Salem)

Rep. Amber Baker (D-Winston-Salem) pointed to the 12 gun deaths in Forsyth County so far this year that included two children, which she asked lawmakers to consider in their vote. “This does not play well given the deaths we have right now in some of our urban centers,” she said.

During a community forum on Tuesday, Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough decried the bill and change in the law. “To me, the metaphor is like going to a fire call — instead of pouring water on the fire, you’re pouring gasoline,” he told WFDD at the meeting, which included Winston-Salem Police Chief William Penn Jr. “Right now, what we’re doing, you see, if you want to get a firearm you have to come do the background check. You go through proper channels.” 

House Democratic Leader Robert Reives (D-Chatham) spoke briefly during the hearing but afterward issued a statement decrying the decision. “Convicted domestic abusers should not be allowed to purchase firearms,” he said. “Just days after a legislative committee voted unanimously to close the loophole, Republicans refused to do so today. They had the opportunity to do the right thing, but instead bowed to pressure from far-right groups.”

To Baker’s point, Rep., Carla Cunningham (D-Mecklenburg) reached into High Point to make her argument, citing the case of Robert J. Crayton of High Point, who in early January took a gun and shot his wife, his three children and then himself in his family home.

“He had a mental health background check for involuntary commitment on Jan. 2,” she said. “He was required to stay there for 10 days for another hearing before you return to society.”

And now, she said, a key check would be lost to understanding how Crayton got the weapon that killed his family.

“The sheriffs feed the [NICS] system,” she said. “It hasn’t been accurate for years. Who is going to feed the NICS database if the sheriffs are not going to do it?”

Rep. Keith Kidwell (R-Beaufort), wearing an AK-47 tie pin in support of gun rights, had the answers for her:

“Background checks are still required,” he said. “Criminals don’t get checks before they buy a gun.”