Bill would allow more guns on campus

May. 04, 2013 @ 04:41 PM

The North Carolina House of Representatives is set to vote on a proposed gun bill this week. 

House Bill 937, titled to amend various firearm laws, would strengthen the penalties for people who permit children, under the age of 12, to have unsupervised access to guns. It also expands where people with valid concealed handgun permits may carry their handguns, allowing for them to be in locked vehicles on government property and on college and university property. The handgun must be in a locked compartment in the locked vehicle. The legislation also creates uniform state requirements for background checks and allows people who were involuntarily hospitalized to petition once they turn 18 to have the ban uplifted. 

The bill is supported by the North Carolina Carolina Sheriff’s Association. The North Carolina Association of Chiefs of Police do not refer to the bill specifically in their legislative priorities, though they do state that they oppose legislation that would allow uncontrolled possession of firearms on school property. 

Monroe Police Chief Debra Duncan, who previously served as the Virginia Tech police chief, is opposed to the legislation. 

“First of all, they leave it in the car and the car is not secure,” Duncan said. “They break into cars all the time.”

She said that guns on campuses are not a good idea. 

“Thefts are the largest crime problems that you have on any university...if you think that locking something up in a car is going to keep it secure, it’s not,” Duncan said. 

Duncan also questions the premise of having the gun there in case of an emergency. 

“If you need it an emergency, it’s not readily accessible,” Duncan said. 

Duncan is not opposed to the right to bear arms, but she thinks we need to be more responsible in allowing people to carry them and have them off their property, she said. 

“I just don’t think that carrying a gun on school property is a good idea, especially for students,” Duncan said. 

With regard to the provision that increases penalties for people who give children access to guns, Duncan said there are a lot of instances where children access guns with bad results. 

“Increasing penalties make people more accountable and maybe making people more accountable, they’ll be more responsible,” Duncan said. 

The expansion of where a handgun is permitted only apply to people with valid concealed handgun permits.

Rep. Dean Arp, R-69, is one of the sponsors of the bill. 

“I believe that we need to insure Second Amendment rights for folks in a responsible way,” Arp said. “I thought this bill was a balanced bill that both increased penalties for irresponsible behavior...and increased rights for law-abiding citizens.” 

Arp said that he has only heard support for the legislation. However, a testimony from N.C. State University expressed concern about guns in vehicles on college campuses. 

Arp said allowing the handgun in the locked car on a college campus is as secure as other places they allow it, like a mall parking lot. 

“I’m always concerned with theft and larceny. I would say that it’s as secure as what we allow elsewhere,” he said. “I don’t know that it’s any less or more secure than what we already allow.” 

Arp noted that a locked car is not as secure as a gun safe, but with the exception of people looking to break into a car, it is secure. 

Another aspect of the bill allows handgun owners with a permit to carry their gun into an establishment that charges an admission fee or serves alcohol, unless the owner has posted a sign stating otherwise. 

Arp noted that it is already against the law to drink alcohol while carrying a weapon.

Rep. Craig Horn, R-68, is also a sponsor of the bill. 

“To me, it was a sensible bill,” Horn said. 

He said he has at least 500 e-mails about the bill, particularly about allowing guns in locked cars on college campuses. 

“On first blush, I did think that that’s probably already a fact,” Horn said. “The fact that the bill has them locked up and properly secured...is a good idea.” 

Horn said he was not going to “kid himself” and think handguns were not already on school property, but the bill would make them more secure. 

“My guess is, just a gut feel, that there are already firearms in cars on school property,but they may not be secure,” Horn said. “This bill, I think, will help remind people please secure them...I’m just hopeful that it will cause a more circumspect look by those who might take a firearm to campus.”

Horn is not concerned that the legislation will lead to more guns on school property.

“My concern is not that this bill would in any way encourage more guns,” Horn said. “I don’t really see that. I’m not trying to be ignorant of the fact that any time you give publicity to any activity that you are to some extent promoting the activity.”

Horn said that recent events, particularly school shootings, have left people afraid for their safety and people are taking self-protection more seriously than they did before. He recognizes that in case of an emergency, the gun would not be eadily accessible. 

“For those that do have a weapon...and someone can get to their car, they have a chance to save lives, not only of themselves, but the lives of others,” Horn said. 

He was also concerned about the part of the bill that allows people to petition to remove the bar on gun ownership due to an involuntary commitment. 

However, the law states that the burden of proof is on the petitioner and Horn said the petitioning process could help people who have been exonerated or who did not deserve to be involuntarily committed. 

“What I’m trying to do is to exercise common sense to the best of my ability,” Horn said. “I  don’t want the tail to wag the dog...issues like this are, for some people, very emotional. They are not emotional issues to me, this needs to be looked at objectively and in light of impact on the most people.” 

The bill is scheduled for a vote on Monday, then will move to the Senate.