RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The Republican-led House on Monday night tentatively approved a bill that would expand where concealed weapon permit holders can carry or store their pistols, while lengthening penalties for crimes committed with a gun.
On a party-line 76-38 vote, the House voted in favor of the GOP measure endorsed by gun-rights groups and sheriffs but opposed strongly by University of North Carolina leaders.
Republican leaders defeated five Democratic-sponsored amendments — some seeking to bring squarely the national gun debate to North Carolina — using parliamentary maneuvers to avoid recorded votes on the specific topics. A final House vote was expected Tuesday before the measure goes to the Senate, which also is controlled by the GOP.
UNC system President Tom Ross and campus police chiefs have spoken out over the past couple of weeks against a provision that would allow legally concealed weapons to be stored in locked cars on public college campuses — both universities and community colleges. That option would be provided to private colleges if their administrators agreed.
“Students, parents and facility have the right to protect themselves when they are on a campus, particularly when they are commuting from home to school or when they are commuting from home to work,” said Rep. Justin Burr, R-Stanly, one of the bill’s primary sponsors. “Please tell me why in the world, why we would want to prevent law-abiding citizens from protecting themselves?”
The measure doesn’t allow weapons to be stored in dorms and would be permitted in very narrow cases involving employees in certain university housing.
The proposal also would let permit holders arm themselves in a restaurant where alcohol is served unless the establishment expressly forbids it. It also makes clear that local bans of concealed weapons don’t apply to greenways and walking paths.
Republicans derailed debate and votes on a Democratic amendment that would have required criminal background checks for people who sell guns between licensed dealers and buy them at gun shows. Another one would have limited the size of ammunition magazines.
Democrats were angry that Republicans blocked debate on these and other amendments, including one that would have eliminated the college provisions and another to make it a misdemeanor and minimum $1,000 fine for someone who drink alcohol while carrying their concealed weapon, which is already unlawful.
“I’m really ashamed of this chamber tonight,” said Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, the sponsor of the misdemeanor amendment. He pointed to other states where concealed weapons have also discharged accidentally at restaurants.
Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Wake, said her constituents already live in a relatively safe city such as Raleigh and aren’t asking for additional opportunities to be armed in public places.
“Why are you giving people something they emphatically do not want and will subject them to acts of violence where they already feel safe?” Ross asked.
University leaders say they’re worried the additional weapons on campus, even if they’re stored in cars, will raise the risk of violence on campus. They say vehicle break-ins are a problem, so more weapons could put more of them in the hands of criminals.
Rep. John Faircloth, R-Guilford, a former city police chief, said those 21 years old and older who have qualified for a concealed weapon permit should be allowed to protect themselves when they travel to and from campus at night.
University leaders can’t limit criminals traveling through their campuses on public streets, Faircloth said: “They have to admit they have no idea how many illegal guns are on the campus right now. “
The bill also would widen the scope of a current law that increases prison terms for anyone convicted of the most violent felony crimes while using or brandishing a gun would expand to include all felonies.
The measure also:
— would allow motorists with concealed weapons permits to store guns in their cars in state government parking lots.
— let authorities charge any adult who permits a child under 12 to use a gun without supervision.
— require court clerks to enter quickly into a national criminal background databases whether a criminal suspect or someone else has been adjudicated related to a mental health issue.
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