Gov. Cooper vetoes bill eliminating background checks for handguns but fight not over

Josh Chapin Image
Saturday, March 25, 2023
Cooper vetoes gun bill
NC Governor Roy Cooper vetoes Senate bill that would eliminate sheriff's background checks for handguns, some school properties

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed on Friday a bill that would have eliminated required background checks for handguns conducted by sheriff's offices statewide.

In the past month, Senate Bill 41 passed both NC Senate and House

The legislation removes sheriffs' authority to refuse a permit based on signs of mental illness, domestic abuse incidents that might not be captured in a national database, or other indicators that a person could be a danger to themselves or others.

"Eliminating strong background checks will allow more domestic abusers and other dangerous people to own handguns and reduces law enforcement's ability to stop them from committing violent crimes," Cooper said. "Second Amendment supporting, responsible gun owners know this will put families and communities at risk."

The bill also allows guns on some school properties, increasing the chances that children can find or access firearms at a time when gun offenses and suicides among North Carolina children are increasing.

"When given the opportunity to guarantee Second Amendment protections in North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper chose to maintain our duplicative gun laws and infringe on our constitutional rights," Sen. Danny Earl Britt, Jr., R-Robeson, said. "I look forward to a swift veto override in the Senate."

The 2023 North Carolina Child Fatality Task Force reports that gun deaths for children have increased dramatically-231.3% between 2012 and 2021. Guns are now the leading cause of injury and death for children in North Carolina, surpassing car accidents

In February, Democrats raised alarms that the repeal would create a loophole that could allow criminals or people with mental illnesses to more easily obtain weapons. Background checks are not mandatory for private gun sales between two individuals, which only require buyers to obtain a sheriff-issued permit, or face a misdemeanor charge.

Republican Rep. Keith Kidwell of Beaufort County responded that "criminals don't get background checks before they buy a gun."

While Republicans touted the North Carolina Sheriffs' Association's support for the bill during floor debate, several Democrats said their local sheriffs opposed it.

RELATED | North Carolina House votes to end pistol permit requirements

"There's no reason we should do away with the system that is working, it's worked for over a hundred years to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them," said Becky Ceartas of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence. "I think the system can be improved upon right now you have to get it from your local sheriff's department but you can get it online.

"It's only our pistol purchase permitting system that's keeping guns out of the hands of just being convicted of a crime of assaulting a female or assaulting a child," Ceartas added. "We need to keep the system in place."

She said they "commend" Gov. Cooper for vetoing this bill.

"He's standing up for public safety, for saving lives, this should not be a partisan issue, why is saving lives a Democratic or Republican issue?" Ceartas said.

She pointed to Missouri, which repealed a similar law, and said that state's gun homicide rates spiked by 47% and suicide rates went up by 24%.

Marcus Bass, the executive director of Advance Carolina and deputy director at NC Black Alliance said there is an array of opportunities to use weapons; hunting; for game.

"I know how easy it is to go through that process which makes it even more ridiculous why they'd introduce this bill to try and remove it," Bass said. "In North Carolina, I think we could've benefited by improving the pistol purchase program. There are a number of sheriffs in favor of keeping the process as it is. Individuals now are going to have unfettered access at any location that firearms now. Not just our pawn shops but there are a number of businesses that may start to carry guns now that it's just as easy to purchase a weapon as it is a hamburger in North Carolina.

"When we talk about gun violence it is not solely the responsibility of folks who are so-called criminals," Bass added. "Now anybody can fall into the hands of anyone it's just about the criminal element here, it's about our youth and our most vulnerable communities and it's about having more access to guns at any time in history. Blood will be on the hands of those in the General Assembly for those who attempt to override the governor's veto."

But Republicans in the Senate are already pledging to use their supermajority to override Cooper's decision.

However, they will need some help from Democrats to do that in the House.