More Guns in More Places - Thanks to Your Legislature
Here is some extra holiday advice you will need this year, thanks to the General Assembly.
It's probably not a good idea to argue with a stranger over a parking space at a state park or confront a reckless cyclist on your local greenway. They might have a loaded handgun hidden in their belt.
It is legal as of Thursday, thanks to the General Assembly, to carry loaded handguns in state parks and most local recreation areas.
Your local government officials can adopt an ordinance to make you keep the gun in your car at certain playgrounds and athletic fields, but the assumption in the state law now is that you can take your gun to any park you want, whether children are there or not.
That was just one of the troubling provisions in a startlingly broad rewrite of state gun laws that the General Assembly passed this summer with far less public attention and scrutiny than the legislation deserved.
Much of the debate was over the expansion of the so-called Castle Doctrine that allows you to use deadly force if someone is breaking into your home. The bill expanded your "castle" to include your car and workplace and removes language in the law that requires people to have a reasonable belief that the intruder intends to hurt them.
Gun safety advocates were understandably concerned about the move toward a shoot-first policy, but it is now the law.
There are plenty of other troubling aspects in the new, weaker gun laws, maybe most notably a provision that forces North Carolina to honor concealed weapons permits from all other states, regardless of how weak they are.
One of the requirements for a permit in North Carolina is attendance at a state-approved training and safety course. But a reporter for Business Week recently described his experience getting a concealed carry permit from Florida even though he is not a resident of the state and took his safety course online.
If one state's laws are too strict, simply find another state and your permit will be valid in North Carolina too.
There's more, like cutting in half the time a local sheriff's office has to issue a permit to carry a concealed weapon and allowing court personnel to carry guns into courthouses.
The group North Carolinians Against Gun Violence is having some success working with local governments to convince them to pass the ordinances banning guns from some city playgrounds, and even that is upsetting the hard-core gun advocates.
The Smithfield City Council recently voted to keep guns out of local recreational facilities like swimming pools and athletic fields that are narrowly defined in the law.
Grass Roots North Carolina's President Paul Valone thinks that is a "huge problem," telling The Smithfield Herald, "I can take my kid on a picnic, but as soon as he wants me to push him on a swing, I'd be violating the law."
You'd think the way to handle that problem would be to ban guns from picnic areas in city parks, but folks like Valone want to have their guns near the swing set, and he says he is planning a lawsuit to challenge that part of the Smithfield ordinance.
Gun safety advocates say that as troubling as the new gun law is, even more extreme proposals were discussed in the General Assembly this session that didn't pass. The House, for example, passed a bill to allow people to take loaded handguns into restaurants that serve alcohol.
The Senate didn't take up that proposal, so you don't have to worry yet that the person you bump into at Applebee's is carry a loaded handgun, but don't rest too easy. Lawmakers will be back in Raleigh several times before this two-year term is over. And given their track record so far, it's hard to have much faith that common sense will prevail very often.
More loaded guns in more places seems likely to be one of the legacies of this General Assembly.
Chris Fitzsimon is executive director of N.C. Policy Watch. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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