RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – House Bill 189, the bid to remove restrictions and allow most North Carolinians to carry a concealed loaded weapon, passed through a key committee despite vigorous debate on Tuesday morning and now moves within one step of a vote on the House floor.

The so-called “NC Constitutional Carry Act” received a favorable report – with an amendment to repair typos – in the JudiciaryB Committee, by a vote of 7-4, Chair Sarah Stevens (R-Surry) counted.

Rep. Keith Kidwell (R-Beaufort), with his cosponsors Mark Pless (left) and Jay Adams, pitches House Bill 189 to remove restrictions on carrying concealed weapons. (WGHP)

The Legislative calendar doesn’t yet specify when the House Rules Committee might take up the bill, but a favorable report there would move it for a full vote of the Republican-controlled House, which could happen later this week.

The bill, which was filed on Feb. 23, says in its summary that its intent is to “protect a person’s right to carry a concealed handgun without a permit and to continue allowing persons to acquire a concealed handgun permit for the purposes of reciprocity or for any other reason desired.”

Rep. Reece Pyrtle (R-Rockingham), here pitching a different bill to the committee, voted favorably for HB 189). (WGHP)

Following spirited comments from committee members and the public both for and against the bill, most votes appeared to be along party lines, and Rep. Reece Pyrtle (R-Rockingham), the Piedmont Triad’s only member of the committee, was among those who voted in favor of the bill.

Its primary sponsor is Rep. Keith Kidwell (R-Beaufort), who pitched the bill in sometimes terse and irritated tones. Kidwell, who sometimes wears an AR-15 lapel pin like those popular among some members of Congress, said he had received contact from hundreds of supporters and only one opponent.

Other primary sponsors are Jay Adams (R-Catawba), Ben Moss (R-Moore) and Mark Pless (R-Haywood). Among the 11 Republican secondary sponsors are two from the Piedmont Triad: Brian Biggs (R-Randolph) and Kyle Hal (R-Stokes), neither of whom has responded to emails from WGHP seeking their input.

This bill also would allow elected officials to carry a concealed firearm “while performing their official duties, if the official has a concealed handgun permit,” which means that any member of the General Assembly would be able to wear a weapon while debating a bill, a point that Kidwell confirmed in response to a question in the hearing.

HB 189 would repeal all existing language about conceal-carry permits and would require only that a person be a U.S. citizen and at least 18 years old to carry, which Kidwell says a federal court ruling has specified must be the limit.

The bill does specify that felons, fugitives and those under the influence of drugs, including marijuana and alcohol, can’t carry a concealed weapon.

Kidwell and other speakers cited that there are now 27 states that allow permitless conceal carry, although there are various nuances written into state laws. Neither Virginia nor South Carolina allows permitless carry, but Georgia, Tennessee and West Virginia do.

Members of the House JudiciaryB Committee. (WGHP)

‘Perspective and freedom’

Kidwell, in questioning by committee members, defended the exclusion of firearms among a list of weapons that the bill stipulates could not be concealed, including knives brass knuckles.

“The Second Amendment cites all weapons,” Kidwell said, “but firearms are a defensive weapon, not an offensive weapon. Others are offensive weapons.”

He also cited the inclusion of training requirements and that there would be a misdemeanor charge for violators, and he said that public officials would not be able to carry concealed weapons, like the public would be able to do.

“Many of us have received death threats,” Kidwell said. “This is about perspective and freedom. Both the North Carolina constitutions allow us to keep and bear arms and that right not to be infringed.”

Said Rep. Marcia Morey (D-Durham): “In this country, public opinion is demanding that we do something to protect against mass shootings and gun violence. This bill is opposite to what people are for. I strongly urge you to vote against this bill.”

For and against

Andy Steven of Gun Owners of America speaks on behalf of HB 189 (WGHP)

Apparently, there were numerous speakers lined up to offer comments about the legislation, and Stevens limited those to three each for and against, also curtailing the comments to 1 minute each, because the committee had set a time by which it would vote. In fact, four of the six spoke in opposition.

The bill was supported by gun rights advocacy groups, such as Grass Roots North Carolina and Gun Owners of America, represented by Andy Stevens, who said the bill would alleviate backlogs of some sheriffs who were slow to provide permits.

Paul Valone of Grass Roots North Carolina said the bill represented a “relatively modest bite at the apple.”

But the speakers who were against the bill were even more robust in their comments and included representatives of the North Carolina Council of Churches and the North Carolina Sheriffs Association.

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Jennifer Copeland of the North Carolina Council of Churches is against the bill. (WGHP)

“We consider the bill to be a threat to public safety,” Jennifer Copeland of the NC Council of Churches told the committee. “You have a moral obligation to protect the public.”

Sheriffs Association spokesperson Marie Evitt said her group opposed the bill because she said the bill in practicality “make it nearly impossible to know whether they [law enforcement] approach someone who can carry a concealed weapon. If this bill passes, they will not know that.”

Coincidentally the committee earlier in its meeting also approved a separate bill, House Bill 691, that would allow a sheriff to provide a new resident with a temporary carry permit, for 120 days, if that person has such a permit from another state.