The North Carolina General Assembly is considering a bill that would close the state's gun purchase database to the public. Well, if there's any justice, a front-page story in today's Charlotte Observer should bring that bill to a grinding halt. The Observer analyzed gun permits in Charlotte and surrounding Mecklenburg County, and found almost 300 people have gun permits even though they aren't legally allowed to buy or possess a gun.
More than 60 people who hold active Mecklenburg County permits to buy handguns have been convicted of felonies, some involving guns, an Observer data analysis shows.Under North Carolina law, convicted felons--except for a few categories of white-collar felons--can't get gun permits. North Carolina law also bans gun permit holders from using or being addicted to illegal drugs.
Five were convicted of robbery with a dangerous weapon, three of manslaughter, two of firing into occupied property and one of second-degree murder. Others were convicted of assaults that left victims badly injured or of using weapons to attack government officials.
The Observer’s analysis also found about 230 permit holders with drug convictions, including dozens of people with multiple convictions.
The Observer also turned up something equally alarming. Of the 60 felons it found in the gun permit database, all but one committed their crimes after getting a permit. And four of them are still under court supervision. Yet, there's no way for a gun dealer to know a buyer committed a felony after getting a permit. In North Carolina, all you have to do to get a gun is to show your permit--no background check at the store is required. Additionally, sheriffs have no way of knowing when a permit holder has committed a felony or drug-related offense, let alone any power to seize permits.
“There’s no mechanism and no way I can go get it,” Mecklenburg County Sheriff Chipp Bailey said of the permits. “Anything we can do to keep the public safe, I’m in favor of that. … I just don’t know logistically how we’re going to do that.”Moreover, under current law, all the sheriff can do when he learns a permit holder has committed a felony is to send a letter demanding that the permit can be surrendered.
Because gun dealers don’t report their sales to any agency or database, law enforcement agencies can’t know whether permits are actually used to buy guns.
And because there is no statewide database of permits, North Carolina’s 100 sheriffs can’t share what they know with their colleagues.
The really scary part is that this is just one jurisdiction--albeit the biggest. Makes you wonder how many other convicted felons in this state still have permits.
The bill to close the database is currently being touted as a way to protect gun owners from theft--undoubtedly a response to a blatantly irresponsible decision by The Journal News of New York to publish the names and addresses of gun owners. One of the bill's sponsors, state representative Mike Hager, says the paper was doing what law enforcement should be able to do. What Hager leaves out is that under the current system, practically the only way law enforcement can find out is via tips from the public--or from suspicious gun shop owners.
Two bills are pending that should make it easier to close these loopholes. One would let the county sheriff revoke the permit of anyone convicted of a felony or drug offense. Another would shorten the life of a permit to three years. Under current law, permits are good for five years--enough in some cases to commit a felony and serve time without having to surrender it. Hopefully it won't take someone dying at the hands of a convicted felon to move things along.