NC Gov. Cooper vetoes pistol permit repeal, setting up an override showdown with GOP

Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed gun rights legislation Friday that would repeal the state’s permit requirement for buying handguns, which Republicans argue is outdated and an unnecessary infringement on Second Amendment rights, but which most Democrats vehemently oppose ending.

The bill Cooper blocked passed the GOP-controlled legislature as a package of gun rights measures. In addition to the permit repeal, Senate Bill 41 would also allow people to carry concealed handguns to places of worship that also serve as schools, or have attached schools, in order to help worshipers protect themselves during religious services that take place outside of school operating hours.

SB 41 would also launch a two-year statewide awareness campaign to promote safe gun storage.

“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 in a statement. “Second Amendment supporting, responsible gun owners know this will put families and communities at risk.”

Cooper previously vetoed standalone versions of the permit repeal and concealed carry bills, but this year, Republicans are just one vote short of being able to override his vetoes. That one Democratic vote they need is in the House, and although no Democrats voted for a standalone permit repeal bill last month, three Democrats voted for the full gun package last week, signaling that Cooper’s veto could be bypassed.

The governor’s decision to block the bill sets up the first override test this session for Republican legislative leaders, who have said they have enough Democratic support on certain issues to revisit bills Cooper has blocked earlier in his term.

Under current state law, anyone who wants to buy a handgun in North Carolina needs to first obtain a permit from their local sheriff’s office. As part of that process, sheriffs run background checks on the buyers.

Republicans say that stronger federal background checks have made the permit requirement unnecessary, and that sheriff’s offices shouldn’t be able to arbitrarily approve or deny permits. That, combined with some lengthy delays in permits getting approved in Triangle-area counties during the pandemic, due to a surge in applications, has led GOP lawmakers to push for the permit law to be repealed.

Democrats have warned that doing away with the permit law, which applies to all gun sales, including private ones, will create a loophole that will lead to more guns getting in the wrong hands.