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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Bill: Let armed elected officials roam Capitol

Posted by on Thu, Mar 3, 2011 at 5:00 AM

A new gun bill at the statehouse would let elected officials carry concealed weapons onto the House and Senate floors and most other places in North Carolina, giving elected officials gun rights other state residents don't have.

House Bill 184 would allow state, federal and local elected officials with a concealed carry permit to take their weapons anywhere it's not forbidden by federal law, which basically excludes airports and federal buildings. The measure is a response to a recent space of shootings targeting elected officials, including the the one in Arizona that killed six people and put U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in the hospital with a massive head wound.

"I just felt like in this day and time elected officials just seem to be more exposed," said state Rep. Stephen LaRoque, the bill's primary sponsor.

LaRoque said he'd rather roll back concealed-carry restrictions for all license holders. But since that may not be politically feasible, he called H 184 "a good first step."

Bills to add places it's OK to for any license holder to carry a concealed weapon are also moving through the General Assembly. House Bill 111, for example, would add restaurants and local parks to the places it's OK to carry a concealed weapon. House Bill 63 would make it illegal for businesses to forbid people from keeping a gun locked in their car in the business parking lot.

Both bills were discussed in the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday and are expected to be voted on in two weeks.

But LaRoque's bill, which hasn't had a hearing yet, goes further. Instead of adding a few new places it's OK to carry a gun, it exempts elected permit holders from state restrictions all together. LaRoque acknowledged that this creates two classes of concealed permit holders: elected ones, and everyone else.

"If it was up to me everybody would be allowed to (carry most places)," he said.

At first glance the bill seems to have key support — House Speaker Pro Tem Dale Folwell signed on as a secondary sponsor. But on Wednesday Folwell indicated that he wasn't particularly familiar with the bill, and said he didn't think elected officials should be treated different than other people.

Still, Folwell said the bill seems to be "a good initial response to some of the recent incidents of violence against elected officials." Folwell said he would prefer, though, to overhaul the state's concealed carry laws for all licensed carriers instead of concentrating on public officials.

One other note here: Federal law generally makes it illegal to have a gun at or near a school, and Rep. LaRoque's bill would not trump federal law. But it appears that law allows states to exempt licensed concealed carry permit holders, though only in the state that issued the permit. Wikipedia has a clear, and seemingly well-sourced, explanation of this.

I've looked at other online explanations of the federal act, and it's interplay with state law, and am just not 100 percent sure whether H 184 would let elected officials carry a gun onto school property. I've been unable to get clarification on this from the state Attorney General's Office or the N.C. Sheriff's Association, but Rep. LaRoque, at least, believes his bill would allow elected officials to carry guns into public schools.

Said LaRoque, via email, "as far as I know it would allow for school campuses."

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