By F. Paul Valone
July 2, 2014
Some have complained about GRNC’s alert on 6/30/14 concerning SB 594. But before addressing the alert, please allow me to give a short history of the offending language in the bill.
On May 30, at the behest of Wilmington’s police chief to combat gang crime, Senator Thom Goolsby (R-New Hanover), an otherwise pro-gun legislator, slipped language into Senate Appropriations Bill 744 which increased the penalties for violation of G.S. 14-269(c), which prohibits carrying a concealed deadly weapon “about” one’s person without a concealed handgun permit. GRNC launched a behind-the-scenes attack on the language and, although it passed the Senate, sources close to Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger told us that Berger caused the language to be removed from the House version of the appropriations bill.
As is often the case, however, politicians played a “shell game,” slipping the language into another large bill, SB 594 (“Omnibus Justice Amendments”). GRNC became aware of it only yesterday morning. Was that late? Perhaps. Deception and camouflage are precisely why politicians play this particular shell game. I would note that the NRA only became aware of it after we did and, to the best of my knowledge never lifted a finger to help.
Because we lacked the time to issue an alert, the bulk of yesterday was spent recruiting a sponsor (Rep. Larry Pittman, R-Cabarrus) to amend the bill on Third Reading by removing the provision and drafting talking points which were delivered to all House Republicans by a GRNC Legislative Action Team member (who took time away from her business), and also emailed to all House members by myself.
I was advised by a House member this morning that although some members returning to Raleigh on Monday night didn’t make the caucus meeting prior to session, there was widespread awareness among Republicans that GRNC opposed the increased penalties. After Rep. Pittman introduced his amendment to remove the language, however, Rep. Ted Davis (R-New Hanover) stood to oppose the Pittman amendment, arguing that it was unnecessary because current law adequately “protects” the inadvertent violators Pittman described. My inquiry to Rep. Davis on what this unspecified “protection” might be have gone unanswered, and criminal defense attorney Christopher Connelly (statement below) can find no such “protection.” Unsurprisingly, Davis hails from Wilmington, the same area represented by Sen. Goolsby.
Although the Pittman amendment failed, we got support from 44 of the 74 Republicans who voted on the measure. Then the bill was displaced from the calendar, potentially giving us more time to direct input to legislators. On minutes notice, one of the alert team was able to dispatch the alert in question, but with only a verbal briefing and without time for the usual review process, resulting in a misinterpretation of the scope of the bill. Unfortunately, the chamber returned SB 594 to the calendar that evening and it passed Third Reading, meaning the battle now moves to the Senate, where we will pressure senators not to concur with the House version.
WHAT SB 594 DOES
By changing language in G.S. 14-269(c), SB 594 increases the penalty for concealing a firearm “about” one’s person absent a concealed handgun permit. While a first offense is currently a Class 2 misdemeanor and a second or subsequent offense a Class I felony, SB 594 increases it to a Class A1 misdemeanor on the first offense and a Class H felony on second and subsequent offenses. This is what attorney Connelly has to say about the bill:
“I reviewed the proposed statute. It clearly elevates the existing Class 2 misdemeanor of Carrying a Concealed Weapon (first offense) to a Class A1 misdemeanor. Under NC Structured Sentencing, even someone with NO prior record can be incarcerated for as much as 60 days under a Class A1 misdemeanor. The subsequent offense of CCW, which is currently a Class I Felony, is being elevated to a Class H Felony. A Class I Felony would not allow a prison sentence, while a Class H can result in a 6-8 month prison sentence in the presumptive range.
“This does not just apply to firearms. It would appear that even a person with no record who conceals a knife on their person who be at risk for the Class A1 jail sentence.”
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
The definition of “concealed about” one’s person derives from common law and had been inconsistently interpreted by courts. Beyond the fact that many North Carolinians without concealed handgun permits keep firearms in automobiles, often under the seat or in a glove compartment, and are often unaware that doing so violates the law, understand that since Sandy Hook, sheriffs have been aggressively using minor items such as ancient histories of anti-depressant use to deny concealed handgun applications. Translated, anyone who lacks a CHP and keeps a gun in a vehicle for self-protection is at risk not only for prosecution, but jail. Hence, “send Granny to jail” is EXACTLY the right characterization for the bill. And if you expect prosecutorial discretion to keep you out of jail for an inadvertent transgression, I have two words for you: Mike Nifong.
In sum, the alert contained errors, but was essentially correct in directing input on legislation which is a major concern to North Carolina gun owners. The fast-changing and fluid nature of political action (particularly when the party in control manipulates the process to evade you) means that mistakes are made. For example, when SB 226 passed the House, the NRA announced it was going to the governor for a signature when, in fact, local bills are not signed by the governor.
I hope you will join me in thanking volunteers who get home from work and, instead of spending time with their families, sit down at their computers to write time-critical legislative alerts allowing you to better defend your rights; or legislative team members who take time from work and businesses to ply the halls of the General Assembly; or IT volunteers who post alerts, candidate evaluations and more to our web site; or volunteers who distribute legislative alerts at gun shows.
In fact, with an alert team of only four people issuing almost daily information, we need more alert writers. Will you volunteer?
President, Grass Roots North Carolina