Repeal archaic purchase permit law

Paul Valone, President, Grass Roots North Carolina

Published in the Raleigh News & Observer, May 5, 2021


Even as social unrest drives record gun buying across the country1, 2, North Carolinians are being denied the ability to protect their families. Using COVID-19 as rationalization, for example, Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker first tried to stop issuing pistol purchase permits altogether.3 Despite two lawsuits and a court order to process applications within the fourteen days required by law,4 he continued to slow-walk permits until sued yet again.5, 6, 7


Mecklenburg and Guilford County sheriffs, citing high demand which seems not to impede other counties, currently take up to five months to issue permits.8 Because North Carolina requires either a pistol purchase permit or concealed handgun permit to legally buy handguns, throngs of potential gun buyers complain their rights are being denied.9


At issue is our 1919 pistol purchase permit law, a vestige of the Jim Crow era10 which once facilitated denial of handguns to blacks under its vague “good moral character” requirement. Only Maryland, Michigan and Nebraska still have similar laws, Missouri and Iowa having repealed theirs.11, 12


Meanwhile, a paper in UNC’s North Carolina Law Review finds that in Wake County, black applicants are denied permits roughly three times more often than whites (23.54% versus 8.37%, respectively), suggesting that racial disparity may continue even today.13


Because purchase permits are valid for five years and untraceable once issued, the Charlotte Observer reported they can be used by criminals to bypass the computerized National Instant Background Check System (NICS) if people get permits before committing disqualifying crimes but use them afterward.14


In a reversal of position, the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association now supports repealing the archaic law.15 Its representative recently testified to a legislative committee that implementation of requirements for courts to report mental health data to NICS within forty-eight hours, plus digitizing of older microfiche records, have rendered the system “duplicative.”16


Repealing the law would mean computerized background checks are done via NICS at the point of sale, not up to five years earlier as they are now. Critics complain that private transfers, which technically require purchase permits, would be exempt. But the fact that these slips of paper are untraceable and that many people are unaware of the requirement suggests that compliance is negligible17. Unlike handguns, rifle and shotgun transfers have never required permits.


Although critics cherry pick data to claim an increase in Missouri murders after repealing its permit law, Missouri homicide actually spiked to 32 percent above the national average before repeal and declined to 17% above average after repeal.18 Meanwhile, the UNC paper finds that states without purchase permit laws actually have a seven percent lower handgun homicide rate than states with the laws.19


Far from being snuck through “out of the public eye,” as critics claim, House Bill 398 has passed two public hearings and now heads for a floor vote. Legislators should bring background checks into the 21st Century and heed both law enforcement professionals supporting the bill and citizens being denied their rights by repealing the archaic law.




  1. Tim McLaughlin, Melissa Fares, “U.S. gun sales soar amid pandemic, social unrest, election fears,” Reuters, October 15, 2020,
  2. Alexa Lardieri, “Firearm Background Checks Soar to Record High in March,” April 1, 2021, US News & World Report:
  3. Danielle Battaglia, “Judge says Wake sheriff may have delayed gun permits under guise of COVID concerns,” March 11, 2021, News & Observer,,came%2014%20days%20after%20Gov.
  4. C.G.S. 14-404(f): “Each applicant for a license or permit shall be informed by the sheriff within 14 days of the date of the application whether the license or permit will be granted or denied and, if granted, the license or permit shall be immediately issued to the applicant.”
  5. Brenee Goforth, “N.C. Judge Rules Pistol Permit Applications Must Go On,” April 2, 2020, The Locker Room, John Locke Foundation,
  6. Stafford v. Baker (5:20-cv-00123),
  7. John Richardson, “GRNC Sues Wake County Sheriff Baker…Again,” August 4, 2020, No Lawyers – Only Guns and Money,
  8. See attached screen shot of Mecklenburg County Sheriff website. I can also provide exchanges of letters from GRNC and Gun Owners of America to Guilford and Mecklenburg counties, together with sheriffs’ replies.
  9. I have archived dozens of complaints received through the GRNC website, which I will be happy to forward upon request (de-identified, of course).
  10. Nicholas Gallo, “Misfire: How the North Carolina Pistol Purchase Permit System Misses the Mark of Constitutional Muster and Effectiveness,” North Carolina Law Review, UNC School of Law, Volume 99, Number 2, Article 7, which says on page 529: “The North Carolina pistol-purchase permit system, originating in the Jim Crow Era, remains an obstruction for North Carolinians seeking to exercise their Second Amendment rights.”
  11. p. 558.
  12. Although the UNC paper lists Iowa as having a purchase permit law, the state has since repealed its permit system:
  13. Op cit. note 9, p. 551.
  14. Gavin Off and Bruce Henderson, “Dozens of felons hold gun permits in Mecklenburg Country,” The Charlotte Observer, May 12, 2013:
  15. April 16, 2021 email from North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association president David Mahoney to GRNC legislative director Andy Stevens, which says: “The Executive Committee of the NC Sheriffs’ Association met on April 5, 2021. During the meeting, a discussion was held about NC’s pistol purchase permit system. At the conclusion of that discussion, a majority of the executive committee voted to SUPPORT repeal of the current law that requires a Pistol Purchase Permit.” Available upon request.
  16. Travis Fain, “In major shift, NC Sheriffs' Association backs end to state's pistol permit system,” April 20, 2021, WRAL-TV, The article also contains a link to the video of the hearing.
  17. In the April 20, 2021 Judiciary 4 Committee meeting for House Bill 398, a North Carolina House representative described routinely buying guns from law enforcement personnel without using purchase permits. The statement is available in the video referenced in note 15.
  18. John R. Lott, “Media cherry picks Missouri gun data to make misleading case for more control,”
    Fox News, February 21, 2014:
  19. Op cit. note 9, p. 561.