North Carolina lawmakers voted last week to end the state's longtime pistol permit system overriding Governor Roy Cooper and leading many to question what ramifications will follow.
"This is historical. This law has been in effect for hundreds of years so we really don't know what it's going to do. I cannot sit here and tell you a reason why it would be more dangerous for our communities," said Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood.
Blackwood said he is not concerned but he is curious about what, if any, impacts the change will have on gun sales and violence.
"Is this going to make more crimes? Is this going to make more suicides? Is this going to cause my community to be any safer? We don't know yet. I wish I had all the answers," he said.
The I-Team requested data on the number of pistol permits approved and denied by nearby Sheriff's Offices in recent years.
Wake, Chatham, Cumberland and Orange County each reported a significant drop in the number of permits applied for since 2020.
Last year, the Wake County Sheriff's Office received nearly 34,000 applications for pistol permits; of those, the office denied around 2,100 or 6%. That denial rate has remained consistent over the last few years.
In Orange County, the Sheriff's Office denied 29 or 2% of the 1,322 permits in 2022. In 2020 and 2021, the Office denied 15% of applications. Most of the offices reported a permit taking around a week to process but some like Durham County reported an average wait time of just a day.
"Most of the denials that I do is because there's a felony that the person forgot about when they filled out their permit application," Blackwood explained.
Without the permit system in place, gun buyers will still get a background check at the gun dealer through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). However, some worry the system won't catch all the data that sheriffs were able to.
"Local law enforcement does a vetting process, right? They run a background check, but they also run a review of local records. So that person might have a pending criminal case. They might be known by a local police department as someone who is in a state of crisis or, you know, maybe there were a lot of 911 calls to that person's house," explained Ari Davis, a policy advisor at Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions.
Private gun sales don't require sellers to utilize NICS, so without the permitting process, no background checks will be utilized in private sales. This isn't that abnormal as many others states and the federal government do not require background checks for federal sales.
RELATED | North Carolina House votes to override Gov. Cooper veto over pistol permit bill
Campbell Law School professor Gregory Wallace said there is also the opportunity for NICS to catch crimes that would have gone missed if the permitting system was still in place.
"One of the problems in North Carolina was that these pistol permits were good for five years. And so you could get a pistol permit, run a background check on you at the time, and then in that following five-year period, you could become a prohibited person," Wallace explained.
Blackwood said the people committing crimes with guns were not the people coming in for pistol permits. However, he believes an increase in gun violence could occur if gun sales increase.
"With more guns being purchased, we've noticed a spike in larcenies of guns, because folks just really don't know how to take care of them. Those guns are going somewhere," Blackwood said. "So the availability of guns does lend itself to criminal activity with those guns, even if they're not in the hands of those lawful responsible gun owners. So we'll certainly have to look at the numbers of losses of guns, the numbers of guns involved in crimes."
Another concern for Davis is an increase in straw purchasers.
"Someone will be less deterred because they don't have to go to law enforcement. They just go into the dealer and they run a background check quickly. It comes back in two minutes. They get the gun and they divert it to, you know, their friend who's going to use it in criminal activity," Davis said.
There is also a concern about how much suicides may increase because individuals will be able to get a gun faster.
While it is too soon to know the true impact of the repeal, past research in other states who have taken similar measures gives insight into what could happen in the state.
Missouri did away with its permit-to-purchase handgun law in 2007. Research from the year after directly link the repeal to an uptick in homicides. Researchers found firearm homicides increased by 23% and suicides increased by 16%.
Davis also pointed to other research that shows that states with an added background-checking system reduced mass shootings and officer-involved shootings.
"This is a really unfortunate and dangerous repeal at a time where we're seeing record levels of gun homicides in the state and so you know, it's very concerning," Davis said.
Data from the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation shows a majority of murders and rapes involve a handgun. Around 42% of murders in 2021 involved a handgun, whereas just 7% involved a rifle or shotgun. The use of all guns in murders are increasing. The state reported a 20% increase in murders involving handguns between 2021 and 2020 and a 143% increase in the use of a shotgun.
Blackwood said one of the biggest challenges right now is figuring out a better way to handle gun sales and individuals' mental health records, along with making sure to catch any lag times between a crime and the NICS updating.
DATA: ABC11 Neighborhood Crime Tracker
"Therein lies an opportunity, I think, rather than a problem. I think it's an opportunity for some collaboration between our mental health providers, our sheriff's offices and our law enforcement partners within the counties to have a voice with ATF or the FBI or whoever is going to manage all this stuff and let them know that, hey, we've got somebody that's concerning to us. And what's the next step? You know, and I think that's where the red flag law comes into being very important," Blackwood said.
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