RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – If you are counting on the North Carolina General Assembly to ensure protections for illegal handgun sales, you need to turn your focus to the House.

The Senate on Thursday morning passed Senate Bill 41, which includes a change to how permits for handguns are screened, along party lines.

North Carolina state Sen. Danny Britt (R-Robeson) promotes his legislation easing gun access requirements. (AP Photo/Hannah Schoenbaum)

All three votes – and those on four amendments that were proposed – were 29-19, party-line votes. It’s unclear when the House might take up the bill.

Senate Bill 41, sponsored by Sen. Danny Britt (R-Robeson), eliminates the background checks that sheriffs now conduct on local gun sales, which close loopholes in the checks already mandated for federal gun laws.

The bill also allows churches that operate with schools on their property to permit licensed conceal-carry weapons on campus when schools aren’t in session or related activities aren’t underway. The bill also provides some resources about safe storage training.

But the debate about the bill was all about the pistol permitting process, which would eliminate the background checks sheriffs perform for private sales not subject to federal checks. Proponents say those checks are unnecessary, but opponents say they have had value.

Britt says the bill combines two that were passed in the previous two sessions, but he, too, focused his comments on the permitting issue. He said the sheriffs association had asked for the change. Proponents say the process goes back to the Jim Crow Era and discriminates against Black people who seek a permit.

“Sheriffs can deny the right to the permit of a handgun due to ‘moral character,’” Britt said. “That’s an arbitrary interpretation.

“Private sales are a very, very small percentage of gun sales. Out-of-state sales are covered by federal background checks.”

There was vigorous opposition by three Democrats who offered four amendments to the bill, two of them about the background directs specifically and another about the issue of so-called “red-flag laws.”

State Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Spruce Pine)

Those are laws that allow family and household members to petition a court to have weapons removed from unstable or potentially violent individuals they fear. There are 19 states and the District of Columbia that have such laws. That includes Florida, which adopted the law in the wake of the Parkland school shooting, which was five years ago as of this past Tuesday.

All four amendments were tabled under motions by either Britt, a senator from the western reaches of the Piedmont Triad, Ralph Hise (R-Spruce Pine), or Sen. Warren Daniel (R-Buncombe). No Republican supported any of them.

“Our Second Amendment rights are non-negotiable,” Britt said in a release after the session. “These are commonsense laws to ensure that the rights of law-abiding citizens are not being infringed.”

Said state Sen. Michael Garrett (D-Greensboro): “Today the North Carolina Senate made our schools, grocery stores, greenways night clubs and Fourth of July parades less safe. I will continue to fight dangerous legislation undermining public safety.”

‘Dangerous territory’

Sen. Natasha Marcus (D-Mecklenburg) led the counterattack, speaking passionately and even emotionally in favor of keeping the pistol protection background checks.

She cited the “90% support” by the public for universal background checks and said that handguns were the key element of those. She reinforced “careful checks” by sheriffs that “this bill throws out completely” and that the private handgun sales it polices is an expanding market.

“If this bill becomes law, it will carve out a huge new exception and take North Carolina into dangerous territory,” Marcus said, her voice sometimes cracking.

“Senate Bill 41 is the antithesis of commonsense gun control. People are tired of living this way, with the constant threat of gun violence and politicians doing nothing about it. This bill will make gun violence more likely.”

Britt challenged Marcus to show him a bill she had filed in the past two sessions to address her concerns about gun control, and she responded that there was one in draft.

Daniel’s counterpart from Buncombe county, Sen. Julie Mayfield (D-Buncombe), argued that the bill is “pushing the national narrative that the Second Amendment is supreme and can’t be limited in any way.”

She said in Buncombe County that the sheriff’s office had reviewed 2,700 requests and had approved all but 63. But she said those 63 included people who had records of being violent and mentally ill and even convicted felons.

Marcus offered the amendments to close the loophole by eliminating the changes to the sheriffs’ checks on private sales. Sen. Natalie Murdock (D-Chatham) offered one amendment to add universal background checks and then a proposal to offer more resources for safe storage training. All three were tabled.

No red flags

State Sen. Jay Chaudhuri (D-Wake)

Then Sen. Jay Chaudhuri (D-Wake) brought up red-flag laws. He cited the statistics about public support but also that U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) had brokered a gun-control bill that was signed into law that encouraged states to adopt those laws.

He cited data that judges in Florida had used red-flag laws more than 8,000 times in the past four years. He said that the laws had helped to reduce suicides in Indiana by more than 7%. He used those states as examples because their legislatures, like North Carolina, are controlled by Republicans. His amendment was tabled, too.

“With this bill, we are setting ourselves up for the next Columbine, Sandy Hook or the next Parkland,” he said, referring to three mass shootings in schools. “Guns are the leading cause of death of children younger than 18. In North Carolina, someone dies from gun violence every six hours.

“Republicans voted down four commonsense measures. … This should not be a partisan issue. These issues have the support of the overwhelming majority of our voters and gun owners.”