Two Days After Another School Shooting, NC Lawmakers Make It Easier To Buy A Handgun

FILE - North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore speaks in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, Dec. 7, 2022. North Carolina legislators repealed on Wednesday, March 29, 2023, the state’s requirement that someone obtain a permit from a local sheriff before buying a pistol, as the Republican-controlled legislature overrode successfully one of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes for the first time since 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

By Michael McElroy

March 29, 2023

Republican legislators overrode Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto on a bill that experts say would make it easier for someone with a history of violence or domestic abuse to buy a handgun.

Two days after a gunman killed 6 people – including 3 children – at a Nashville elementary school, GOP North Carolina lawmakers made it easier to buy a handgun in the state.

The state House on Wednesday joined the Senate in overriding Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the contentious gun bill. Advocates say that it drops protections against selling a handgun to someone with a history of violence or domestic abuse. 

The narrow margin of victory shows both the importance of last year’s elections, which saw crucial gains for Republicans in the General Assembly, and the diminished nature of Cooper’s veto, which, advocates say, was the last bulwark here against many of the more severe laws passed in other Southern states regarding abortion access, voting rights, and as today showed, guns.

The bill ends the state requirement that anyone wanting to buy a handgun must get a permit from their local sheriff’s office, a process that includes a background check. (The bill also allows for people to bring a concealed weapon into any houses of worship with a school attached or on school grounds, as long as there are no school activities underway.) Cooper vetoed the bill last week, and even former Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, criticized the legislation.

The Senate voted to override the veto on Tuesday evening by the wide margin reflected in its partisan divide. But the vote was expected to be much closer in the House where Republicans hold a majority that is just one vote shy of being able to override any veto without any Democrats. 

New Rules Make Veto Override More Likely

A ⅗ vote is required in both houses for a successful override, but new rules passed this year now make it ⅗ of those present and voting, not just ⅗ of total membership.

That means that if a House Democrat simply misses the vote, Republicans can successfully remove any legislative obstacles Cooper has at his disposal.

Three Democrats missed Wednesday’s vote; Cecil Brockman, who represents Guilford. Co;, Michael Wary, Halifax Co; and Tricia Cotham, Mecklenburg.

With those three out, Republicans needed 70 votes. They got 71. If all three had shown and voted against the override, the override would have failed. 

A staff member for Brockman, who voted against the original bill on March 15, said he missed the vote because he was in urgent care Wednesday morning, but he declined to comment on how Brockman would have voted in the override. Wray, who voted for the original bill, and Cotham, who also missed that vote, did not return messages this morning seeking comment. Cotham later issued a statement that she missed the vote because she was receiving medical treatment for symptoms associated with long COVID.

Republican House leaders did not allow any debate before the vote, arguing that the bill itself had been debated and voted on multiple times and that the rules make no such allowance during an override. But Rep. Robert T. Reives, the House Democratic leader, spoke on the floor afterward, apologizing to NC high school students observing the vote “for what you’ve just seen.” 

In a statement on Wednesday, Reives said the vote could not be separated from the killings in Nashville. 

“Gun violence is at an all-time high in our country. We see it daily in every place in our communities, including churches and schools,” Reives said. “Just two days ago, three nine-year olds were killed in their school, joining an ever-growing list of children who will never return home to their families.” 

Supporters of the bill said that the background checks were redundant, since there is still a federal background check for handgun purchases, and presented an unconstitutional burden. But federal background checks often miss some of the mental health and domestic violence history that a sheriff’s office, with a better knowledge of the people they’re checking on, often catch. And the people those background checks would prevent from buying a handgun, advocates point out, are the ones most likely to use them against someone. 

“The true defenders of public safety,” Reives said, “are the House and Senate Democrats who made sure they were on the floor to vote to keep our neighborhoods safe.”

He added: “This includes one House Democrat who, suffering from multiple bone fractures, postponed necessary surgery to travel to Raleigh just for this vote. And another who came to vote despite his mother passing away this week.”


  • Michael McElroy

    Michael McElroy is Cardinal & Pine's political correspondent. He is an adjunct instructor at UNC-Chapel Hill's Hussman School of Journalism and Media, and a former editor at The New York Times.

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