New gun laws need greater scrutiny

A bill moving through the General Assembly would allow legislators and legislative employees with concealed carry permits to bring their guns to the legislative complex, including the House and Senate floors.

But when asked for his opinion on the idea, Jeff Weaver, General Assembly Police chief, didn’t know House members inserted that provision into the bill – House Bill 562.

In other words, no one – not the bill sponsors or any other legislator – had told the guy responsible for ensuring the safety of the thousands of people who enter and exit the Legislative Building and Legislative Office Building each day that allowing potentially dozens of people to carry weapons into those buildings was under consideration again.

Weaver told me he thought that idea died a while back and that he hadn’t been informed otherwise. He declined to give his opinion because he wanted to talk to the bill sponsors first. He did offer a general concern about weapons that might already find their way into General Assembly buildings.

“I’m concerned about the number of guns that probably are in here now that we have no idea are in here, and that’s from other law enforcement officers, as well as any citizen could come in here with a concealed handgun,” Weaver said. “I’m not naive enough to believe it doesn’t take place.”

The new law would require legislators or staffers to inform the police chief in advance that they planned to carry their weapons.

Both sides have reasonable arguments about whether to allow guns at the Legislature. Today, building rules prohibit them for anyone other than law enforcement and military personnel when performing their jobs. Proponents say legislators deal with disgruntled members of the public and want to be able to protect themselves. Also, the Legislative Building and Legislative Office Building don’t have metal detectors. Roughly half of the states use them – walk-through, hand-held or both – at their legislative buildings, according to information from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

But opponents say not everyone with concealed carry permits is well-trained to shoot their guns. Also, they say, accidents happen and more guns equals more potential for accidents. Opponents also question whether allowing more people to carry guns could make an “active shooter” scenario more dangerous. (Of course, it could also help subdue any attacker more quickly). General Assembly police are trained in the appropriate way to respond to those incidents, but your average concealed carry permit holder probably isn’t.

In states nationwide, there’s a hodgepodge of rules governing who can carry guns in buildings that house state legislatures. Some states ban weapons for everyone except certain law enforcement personnel. Others allow legislators and legislative staff to carry them, and others allow anyone with a concealed carry permit to bring guns to legislative buildings.

In North Carolina’s case, it’s a good idea to have a lengthy and thorough discussion with the police agency that protects the legislative complex before considering such a change.

That didn’t happen up front in this case. Let’s hope it has by the time you read this, and that legislators take what they learn seriously.

Patrick Gannon is the editor of NC Insider.

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