Wednesday, March 13, 2013 11:11 PM
Amendment seeks to expand gun rights
By Corey Friedman | Times Online Editor
It’s an amendment inspired by the Second Amendment.
State lawmakers want to expand concealed-carry rights and cement their support for lawful gun ownership in the North Carolina Constitution. Rep. Jeff Collins is a co-sponsor of House Bill 246, which would place the Gun Rights Amendment on the November 2014 general election ballot.
"I get multiple emails every day on Second Amendment rights from people who are very concerned that someone in government — usually the federal government — is trying to take those rights away,” said Collins, a Rocky Mount Republican. "It’s probably the most-addressed issue that I hear from constituents.”
The National Rifle Association and other influential groups have bristled at gun control regulations President Barack Obama is pushing, including bans on assault rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines and expanded federal background checks.
Some fear those regulations are a precursor to outright bans on gun ownership, which the president and gun control proponents deny. The amendment seeks to block such a sweeping government gun grab.
"In accordance with the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution and this section, the state shall never engage in a general confiscation of the weapons of its citizens and shall never cooperate in the effort of any other entity to do so,” the proposed amendment reads.
The Gun Rights Amendment also would prevent North Carolina cities and towns from increasing concealed-carry restrictions. It would allow concealed handgun permit-holders to carry concealed in most public places, except courthouses, federal buildings, school campuses and state governmental buildings.
"It’s silly, these laws that tell you that you can’t carry here, you can’t carry there,” said Rep. Michael Speciale, a New Bern Republican and one of four primary sponsors. "The only ones who pay attention to the law are the law-abiding citizens. A lot of the laws just lack common sense.”
Gun rights advocates say concealed handgun owners can prevent crimes and defend themselves and others, and the laws that stop them from carrying guns only embolden criminals who know their victims will be unarmed.
Former Texas state lawmaker Suzanna Hupp called for increased concealed-carry rights after her parents were shot and killed in a restaurant in 1991. Hupp had a concealed handgun permit and believes she could have protected her parents if she hadn’t left the gun in her car to comply with state law.
Property owners would still be able to ban concealed weapons at their businesses and homes under the North Carolina amendment.
Collins, who is a concealed handgun permit-holder himself, said the Second Amendment was intended as a safeguard against government abuses.
"I think their main reason for putting gun ownership in the Constitution as a right was in case their own government turns tyrannical, they’ll have something to stand up against it with,” he said. "I think it’s as important now as it’s ever been in our history.”
Rep. Larry G. Pittman, a Concord Republican, drafted the amendment and is a primary sponsor along with Republican colleagues Speciale, Rep. Carl Ford of China Grove and Rep. Jon Hardister of Greensboro.
Like Collins, Speciale said gun rights is the No. 1 issue prompting feedback from constituents.
"I’ve seen hundreds and hundreds of emails,” he said. "We get them from all over the state. If people are supportive of it, they need to send some emails up here to let the other representatives know they need to support it. Believe it or not, what you guys write in your emails does matter. It has an effect on all of us. We do listen.”
A two-thirds majority of both the state House and Senate is required to pass a constitutional amendment. If the bill becomes law, voters will have the final say in 2014.
Leaders in the Republican-controlled General Assembly are supportive of expanded gun rights, but Speciale said it’s "hard to say” whether the amendment will pass muster. He said backers are watching another gun bill, House Resolution 63, to see how it fares.
The resolution would notify North Carolina’s congressional delegation that the state House supports Second Amendment rights and opposes gun control. Speciale is primary sponsor of that legislation, and Rep. Susan Martin, R-Wilson, has signed on as a co-sponsor.
"That will probably be the first one to hit the floor as far as the gun bills, and it’s pretty tame,” Speciale said. "It will be a good gauge.”
Lawmakers introduced the Gun Rights Amendment on March 6, and leaders referred it to the House Rules Committee for hearings.
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