This story originally published online at NC Policy Watch.
Two days after a mass shooting at a Tennessee school, the North Carolina legislature loosened state gun laws by lifting the requirement for local sheriffs to approve pistol purchases as lawmakers completed the override of a bill Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed last week.
The state House voted 71-46 Wednesday to override Cooper’s veto, following the Senate’s override vote Tuesday.
In addition to repealing the pistol permit requirement, the law allows concealed permit holders to carry guns in schools that double as places of worship and launches a two-year firearm safe-storage campaign.
The Senate 30-19 vote had all Republicans in favor and all Democrats opposed.
All 71 House Republicans voted to override Cooper’s veto, and 46 Democrats – all those who voted – voted to uphold the veto. No votes were recorded for Democratic Reps. Cecil Brockman, Tricia Cotham, or Michael Wray. With those absences, Republicans had the needed votes – a three-fifths majority of those present and voting – to override.
Cotham said in a later statement that she was receiving treatment for long COVID and Democrats and Republicans knew she could not attend the vote. Cotham said in the statement that she opposed overriding the veto.
In an emailed statement after the vote, Democratic leader Robert Reives said one Democrat with multiple bone fractures postponed surgery to show up for the vote, as did a Democrat who came in for the vote despite the death of his mother this week.
The successful override is a demonstration of increased Republican strength this session. Although Republicans have had control of the legislature since 2011, they have not always had enough votes in both chambers to override vetoes.
This session, Republicans have a veto-proof majority in the Senate and are one vote short in the House.
Cooper has vetoed versions of the gun bill before. He vetoed the pistol permit repeal in 2021. The legislature did not attempt to override it. He vetoed the guns in schools bill twice, in 2020 and 2021. An override attempt failed in 2020 and the legislature didn’t try in 2021.
House Republicans allowed no debate Wednesday, though Reives tried to speak.
After the vote, Reives apologized to school children watching in the gallery. “We represent all viewpoints,” he said. “It was not shown to you today, and that breaks my heart.”
Rep. John Torbett, a Gaston County Republican, said the issues had been thoroughly debated. “We already talked about it over and over,” he said. “Full deliberation had occurred.”
Supporters argued that the sheriff checks are redundant to federal background checks. But the law does open a loophole for sales at gun shows or online.
Second Amendment enthusiasts have pushed for the changes for years. The organization Gun Owners of America applauded the override.
“This has been a long fight in North Carolina, and GOA is so proud to see our efforts finally pay off,” the organization’s senior vice president Erich Pratt said in an emailed statement.
Gun control groups denounced the override.
“As America reels from the horrific school shooting in Nashville, gun lobby legislators in North Carolina are doubling down on a law that will make it even easier for people with dangerous histories to buy guns,” John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said in a statement. “The evidence is clear — weak gun laws equals more death, a fact North Carolina lawmakers are willfully disregarding to curry favor from gun extremists.”
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