TAR HEEL VIEW: Gun bill aims to end a dubious legal distinction

Battle lines are drawn predictably — Second Amendment defenders on one side and gun control advocates on the other. But House Bill 746 has more to do with short-circuiting bureaucracy than expanding gun rights.

You wouldn’t know it from the debate roiling Raleigh, the sound bites filling the airwaves or the testy exchanges swapped on social media. Society’s double-barrel baggage has confused what should be a relatively clear-cut issue.

Should law-abiding citizens legally allowed to carry handguns be able to choose between a hip holster and a purse or pocket?

The N.C. House said yes by way of a 65-54 vote on Wednesday. HB 746, which seeks to reduce the legal distinction between open-carry and concealed-carry guns, now advances to the Senate.

The bill would eliminate most restrictions on carrying concealed guns. Opponents paint the legislation as a sweeping enhancement of gun rights, but that’s far from true.

Handgun purchases would still require federal background checks and permits from county sheriffs. Convicted felons and those with mental illnesses would still be barred from buying. Residents and business owners could still ban guns on their private property.

The only major difference: North Carolinians would no longer need a state-issued permission slip to take the guns they can carry openly and tuck them out of sight.

State law already recognizes citizens’ right to carry firearms. As long as handguns are not concealed, they can accompany their owners to an array of public and private places. But if you want to be armed without advertising it to the world, state officials require you to jump through a few hoops first.

To obtain a concealed-carry permit, North Carolina residents must complete an eight-hour safety class and pay $90 in non-refundable permit fees at their county sheriff’s office. Every five years, permit-holders pay a $75 renewal fee.

The distinction between a handgun carried openly and one carried concealed is arbitrary. Treating one as a right and the other as a privilege doesn’t make a lot of sense, and fair-minded folks on both sides of the gun rights divide ought to be able to admit that.

After all, a pistol has the same stopping power when it’s drawn from a holster as when it’s pulled from a purse.

Some gun owners carry openly in an effort to deter crime, while others would rather keep a low profile and rely on the element of surprise if they are accosted or witness an act of violence. We fail to see why the state should care about what boils down to a matter of personal preference.

House Bill 746 wouldn’t make guns any easier to get. It would merely cut through some red tape and reduce revenue raised on the faulty premise that a concealed handgun is intrinsically different from one carried openly.

“No state shall convert a liberty into a license and charge a fee therefore,” the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Murdock v. Pennsylvania.

Subsequent decisions have upheld concealed-carry permit schemes, but the reasoning in Murdock holds true. Bearing arms is either a constitutional right or a privilege to be brokered by bureaucrats. How can it be both?

The Wilson Times