Republican lawmakers in North Carolina passed a repeal of a “Jim Crow”-era gun law last week that was initially intended to prevent black Americans from owning firearms, and Democratic lawmakers are livid.
The bill, SB 41, would repeal the state’s pistol purchase permit requirement that tasks local sheriffs with ensuring residents have “good moral character” before they are issued a firearm. The law, established in 1919, was intended to circumvent the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, which required that gun control laws be racially neutral, according to attorney and historian options in the North Carolina Law Review. States circumvented the Fourteenth Amendment by implementing permitting requirements, or banning handguns altogether – opting to allow “special deputies” or white men to own guns, according to the review. Many other states, such as Florida and New York also chose to implement permitting requirements to circumvent the Fourteenth Amendment. “Overall, despite the North Carolina permit system appearing racially neutral on its face, when taken in context with the actions of surrounding states and the attitudes regarding minorities at the time of enactment, the permit system’s intention was to keep minorities from possessing handguns,” according to the review.
Today, black North Carolinians are still nearly three times as likely to be denied a permit compared to the white population, according to the North Carolina Law Review. Democratic North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed an iteration of the bill in 2021. “The sheriffs know best back home who should and should not be carrying a pistol,” Democratic North Carolina state Rep. Pricey Harrison said. “There’s so much more we could be doing about keeping our communities safe. But unleashing and letting access to guns to individuals who absolutely pose a danger to themselves and others is a real problem.” Harrison feared the overturn of the law will lead to loopholes that enable dangerous criminals and those with mental health issues to easily obtain firearms, according to NPR affiliate WFAE 90.7. Alongside the pistol permit requirement, the bill would also allow for firearm carry in churches, according to the legislation. The church carry debate has recently been taken to the courts, with a federal judge ruling in December that it is unconstitutional to prevent law-abiding citizens from carrying in houses of worship.
Democratic North Carolina state Sen. Natasha Marcus said the bill “is the antithesis of common-sense gun reform,” according to the Coastland Times. “It’s a relinquishment of our job to protect North Carolinians from violence.”
“This bill is about making our communities less safe and has absolutely nothing to do with racial equality,” Democratic North Carolina State Sen. Natalie Murdock said, according to the Coastland Times. “It will in fact make Black communities less safe.” Republican lawmakers and Second Amendment advocacy groups criticized the law in 2020 after Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker suspended permit applications during the pandemic, according to the Washington Examiner. The suspension led to a lawsuit, and Baker was forced to pay damages.
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