04HandgunGuns and their use is one of the topics that causes the most spirited debate in our General Assembly. Clearly it is the supreme “wedge issue” and shows us the deep divide of emotional and intense beliefs each member possesses. It also shows how this division can cause us to abandon reason, abandon the democratic process and abandon our better selves. 

This past week, the House passed House Bill 746 and in doing so dismantled our 20-year-old Concealed Carry law. This law has served us well, balancing our Second Amendment rights to own and carry guns concealed from the public and law enforcement with the need to protect law enforcement and the general public. The Concealed Carry law required a permit from the sheriff after one receives basic training in the safe handling of the weapon, verification of criminal record and certification that one has no history of severe mental illness. It was a commonsense approach to responsible gun ownership and is endorsed by 80 percent of gun owners and law enforcement in the state of North Carolina. 

The new law makes certain aspects of the permitting process voluntary and by doing so makes basic safety training voluntary. Essentially, it guts the permitting process — especially the mental illness and criminal review portions — to the point where one can argue it is useless. How do we assure the public they are safe from those who would carry guns with a mental illness or with no clue on how to safely use the weapon?

The bill also expands where you may carry a concealed gun, such as private homes which do not display notice of banning such by the owner. So, if you do not want someone to conceal carry in your home, untrained, you’d best place a sign on your front porch. 

But the gravamen of this legislation is the utter disregard it has for the training in the safe handling of a gun and ensuring that one possessing this weapon does not have a criminal record or a serious mental illness. 

As Geary Chlebus, a former police officer and a certified weapons trainer of the safe and proper use of weapons, stated: “A gun is a serious weapon capable of killing or maiming numerous people, including the owner. We now require the hunters to have a hunter safety certification to go hunting, but not so in carrying a concealed weapon in the general public.” 

Chlebus went on to say, “I do not know any responsible gun owner who supports this. We teach avoidance first and foremost because the financial, social and mental aspects of carelessly using a weapon, causing the loss of life, is devastating. The public and policy-makers must understand just how crucial this training is.”  

How and why could such a complex law pass so quickly without true vetting and public input? The answers come down to the very vocal minority in the Republican party that refuses to compromise on taxes, social issues and gun rights, using its influence within the Republican caucus to demand this agenda be heard. 

They believe the Second Amendment carries with it no restrictions, and as such, cannot be regulated at all. As I’ve heard it said repeatedly this session, “We have constantly gone too far from middle ground on far too many issues.” 

It is essential that we elect citizens who are willing to consider both sides of an issue and balance the competing interests at hand. Both sides must be willing to work together. We did so 22 years ago, and our present law is a product of such collaboration and public input. It has served us well. 

The old saying “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” applies here. Even in the Wild, Wild West, Marshall Dillon required cowboys to check their guns in with Miss Kitty prior to having a good time.

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