The past legislative session has been a historic victory for Second Amendment rights. Since claiming both chambers in the North Carolina General Assembly for the first time in over a hundred years, Republicans have made significant Second Amendment advances. Several bills have been introduced in the legislature and the most comprehensive bill, HB 650, has been signed by Gov. Perdue.
The Castle Doctrine is a popular piece of legislation meant to expand the right of North Carolinians to defend themselves. One of the most important aspects of the Castle Doctrine is that it expands legal protection for individuals to use lethal force outside of their home, such as in a workplace or vehicle. It also provides the presumption of fear, meaning that individuals who use lethal self defense are presumed to have a fear of immediate bodily injury or death from a criminal, though that presumption can be rebutted in court. Furthermore, under the Castle Doctrine, an individual no longer has the duty to retreat, meaning that if an individual is capable of removing himself from a dangerous situation but chooses instead to defend himself, that person cannot be punished for not retreating.
SB 34 was originally introduced by Sen. Doug Berger (D-Franklin) as a replica of a weaker Castle Doctrine from the previous session but was substituted for a much stronger version in committee. It passed out of the Senate and went to the House where it remains to either be forgotten or reconsidered next session.
HB 74 was introduced by Rep. Mark Hilton (R-Catawba) after SB 34 stalled in the House. This bill was another very strong Castle Doctrine containing the important provisions mentioned above. HB 74 never received another hearing and has since died in committee.
SB 679: Castle Doctrine/Amend Various Firearm Laws
Originally, SB 679 was a bill to strengthen laws prohibiting cockfighting but was stripped of its language and converted to another Castle Doctrine. The bill also included provisions to increase the available locations concealed carry permit holders could carry or at least bring their firearms, including state parks, and limited the ability of local government to regulate the ability to carry firearms on public property. SB 679 also amended current statutes regarding the transfer of firearms and out of state firearm purchases. Language from this bill was eventually incorporated into HB 650 as detailed below. In the end, SB 679 was again changed—this time into a financial regulation bill.
HB 241: North Carolina Firearms Freedom Act
This bill is more of a commerce bill than a gun-rights bill. It declares that any firearm or firearm accessory manufactured and sold within North Carolina is exempt from any federal regulations because Congress cannot regulate intrastate commerce due to limitations implied by the Tenth Amendment and the U.S. Commerce Clause. Sadly, this piece of legislation designed to reduce federal intervention in state affairs did not pass out of the House Judiciary subcommittee and died because it did not meet the crossover deadline.
HB 63: Firearm in Locked Motor Vehicle/Parking Lot
HB 63 is the predecessor of the stricken “Employee Carry” portion of HB 650. This bill allowed for concealed carry permit holders to leave their weapons in their vehicle on an employer’s property and prevented the employer from prohibiting employees from carrying weapons onto their property so long as they remained within the employee’s vehicle. This bill’s language was eventually incorporated into HB 650, but was then removed from HB 650 by an amendment on the House floor.
SB 765: No Firearms Questions during Medical Exams
This bill is unique because it prevents medical care providers from asking patients questions about firearm ownership and prevents them from refusing service based on firearm ownership so long as the doctor believes that such information is not directly impacting the patient’s health. This bill was proposed to prevent discrimination against firearm owners by medical care providers who refuse to treat patients who own firearms or firearm owners who refuse to provide information about their ownership.
A similar measure recently passed in Florida by Gov. Rick Scott and has drawn criticism from gun-control organizations such as the Brady Center. However, SB 765 has not had the same success and did not meet the crossover deadline.
HB 111: Handgun Permit Valid and Parks and Restaurants
HB 111 was created with the specific intent to expand the area in which individuals can carry concealed weapons. In this bill, concealed carry permit holders would be allowed to carry concealed weapons in state parks as well as in restaurants that serve alcohol, though individuals cannot drink nor have alcohol in their blood while carrying. This bill had a relatively successful run in the House and passed out of the House with few changes. However, it was held up in the Senate Judiciary II subcommittee and did not pass out of the Senate before the session ended. Fortunately, because the bill passed to the Senate before the crossover deadline, it can be considered next session. In addition, the part of the bill allowing individuals to carry in state parks was included in SB 679, which was rolled into HB 650 and was presented to the Governor.
SB 594: Firearms/State of Emergency
Under current law, during a state of emergency, it is illegal to carry a weapon or ammunition outside of your property. This bill seeks to repeal that statute in order to allow North Carolinians to defend themselves during states of emergency when police may not be able to maintain order. However, the bill did not have much support outside of the NRA, even from its sponsor Sen. Andrew Brock (R-Davie), and has died in committee. This outcome is likely because there is a current court case challenging the constitutionality of the state of emergency gun ban by Grass Roots North Carolina and the Second Amendment Foundation. If successful, this case would do far more than SB 594.
HB 650: Amend Various Firearm Laws/Castle Doctrine
HB 650 incorporated the vast majority of Second Amendment legislation introduced in this session. This omnibus bill contains many of the provisions mentioned in the previous bills along with other important components.
In its early stages, HB 650 was able to get through committee with few changes. Strong, anti-firearm rights Democrats such as Rep. Verla Insko (D-Orange) and Rep. Joe Hackney (D-Orange) attempted to stall the bill by asking repeated and unnecessary questions. Despite the stall tactics, HB 650 made it out of committee and passed on to the House floor where it was criticized by both Democrats and even a few Republicans. Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam (R-Wake) led the opposition to a specific provision which would have prevented employers from keeping employees with concealed carry permits from bringing firearms onto their property so long as the employee left the gun in their locked car. Stam, Hackney, and others supported an amendment sponsored by Rep. McGrady (R-Henderson) striking this provision from the bill. Debate about the McGrady amendment focused on the property rights of business owners and their ability to determine what is allowed on their property. This amendment passed by a small margin and the bill later passed out of the House and into the Senate.
In the Senate, HB 650 language was substituted with language containing most of its original provisions. One notable change was the removal of a provision that allowed permit holders to bring firearms onto educational facilities so long as the firearms remained in a locked vehicle. Also, language from SB 679 was folded into the HB 650 substitution. This substitute, which had been thoroughly purged of all “lightning rod” issues, successfully passed out of the Senate and was signed into law by Gov. Perdue on June 23, 2011.
The final version of HB 650 contains:
- A strong version of the Castle Doctrine
- Expanded scope of concealed carry for certain officers and law/legal officials
- Exemption from punishment for individuals who unknowingly carry a firearm onto educational property
- Concealed carry in state parks (with some exceptions depending on the municipality)
- Reduced time to receive concealed handgun permit
- Allowance of duplicate permits for instances when a business or government official needs to hold an individual’s permit for a period of time
- Prevents local governments from banning firearms in public places except recreational facilities on state parks
- Improved concealed carry reciprocity laws allowing individuals with permits from out of state to carry concealed in North Carolina
- Realignment of state regulation of Title II weapons, such as automatic firearms, to be in line with federal regulations
Ultimately, this legislative session has been the most productive session for North Carolinian’s Second Amendment rights in many years. With the passage of HB 650 and a stronger Castle Doctrine, the legislature and Gov. Perdue have begun to reverse the diminishing rights of gun owners. Gov. Perdue has even increased her rating from Grass Roots North Carolina, one of North Carolina’s prominent Second Amendment rights organizations, to a four star rating. While HB 111 awaits a hearing in the next session in hopes that legislators can expand concealed carry rights to restaurants that serve alcohol, other bills will have to be introduced later.
Second Amendment rights supporters can hopefully support bills like HB 63 in the future which allows permit holders to bring weapons legally onto their employer’s property so that they may defend themselves if necessary. Passage of a bill like SB 765 would protect firearm owners’ right to privacy from overbearing medical providers and possibly from increased insurance rates from companies who inaccurately view firearm ownership as a health risk. In addition, many opponents of encroaching federal regulations would champion a bill like HB 241, which would forbid the federal government from regulating intrastate trade of firearms and firearm accessories.
NOTE: The original version of this article has been updated.