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Cumberland County sheriff criticizes end of pistol permit process

Thousands of permits denied by Sheriff Ennis Wright since 2019

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Since 2019, the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office has denied more than 6,000 requests for permits to purchase handguns. Action by the state legislature last week has put an end to that permit process.

The legislature overturned a veto by Gov. Roy Cooper of S.B. 41, which repeals the requirement that anyone buying a pistol get a permit from a county sheriff.

Sheriff Ennis Wright said in a statement last week that people who want to purchase a pistol in Cumberland County are, effective March 29, no longer required to get a permit from the sheriff.

Since the beginning of 2019 and through March 29, 6,006 pistol permits were denied by the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, according to data provided by that office. The number of denials each year is as follows:

  • 2019: 974.
  • 2020: 1,942.
  • 2021: 1,494.
  • 2022: 1,303.
  • 2023: 293.

Even with passage of the new state law, a permit will still be required for concealed-carry weapons.

Under the now repealed system, North Carolina sheriffs were able to evaluate the mental health and domestic violence history of someone seeking a pistol permit. The federal background system throug the National Instant Criminal System, or NCIS, is still in place, but Wright said in an emailed statement to CityView that he does not believe that system is adequate.

“I wasn’t for repealing the pistol purchase permit applications. I am concerned that the (NCIS) background check process is not as complete as safety would require and is not as thorough as the background investigation that the Sheriff’s Office conducted for pistol purchase permits,” Wright said.

Wright emphasized that other federal and state laws regulating firearms are still in place.

“Citizens must know that anyone obtaining or transferring any gun must comply with federal and state laws,” he said.

The overturn of Cooper’s veto of S.B. 41 fell along party lines with all Republicans voting to overturn it and all Democrats voting to sustain the veto. Republicans in the General Assembly have a supermajority in both the House and Senate, allowing the legislative body to overturn any veto by the governor if no Republicans buck the party.

Democratic lawmakers are concerned that the repeal will make it easier for violent individuals to access a firearm.

“As an educator and former magistrate, I am concerned about gun violence and the state of mental health across our country. As a result, I voted to uphold Gov. Cooper’s veto,” said Rep. Frances Jackson, a Democrat from Cumberland County.

Democratic representatives are also concerned about people with a history of domestic violence having easier access to firearms.

Of the 44 homicides in Fayetteville in 2022, nine were attributed to domestic violence as a possible motive, the most of any other classification, CityView has reported.

“Eliminating strong background checks will allow more domestic abusers and other dangerous people to own handguns and reduces law enforcement’s ability to stop them from committing violent crimes,” Cooper said in a statement when announcing his veto.

Democratic Rep. Charles Smith of Cumberland County echoed the governor in an interview with CityView.

“I just don’t think that we should be loosening or repealing what I would consider a common-sense gun regulation that keeps guns out of the hands of potentially dangerous individuals,” Smith said.

Republican Rep. Diane Wheatley of Cumberland County said in an emailed statement that the sheriff permitting system is redundant.

“This repeal does not stop any federal or state background check when purchasing a gun,” Wheatley said. “Instead, it will only save local sheriff’s offices from having to run redundant background checks on law-abiding citizens wishing to purchase a gun.”

Wright, who opposes the repeal, said that private sales of guns don’t require sellers to utilize background checks, making a purchase easier for those not legally permitted to possess a firearm.

Other members of the Cumberland County state delegation could not be reached for comment.

Tim Moore, the Republican speaker of the House, said in a press release that the permit system infringed on Second Amendment rights.

“This legislation preserves the Second Amendment rights of North Carolinians by repealing the outdated pistol permit system,” Moore said.

“These have been long-standing goals of Second Amendment advocates in our state, and we have finally brought this legislation over the finish line,” the speaker continued.

The passage of the bill, which also allows individuals to carry guns into churches attached to schools, comes after a shooter entered a private Christian elementary school last week in Nashville, Tennessee, and killed six people, including three children.

In Cooper’s news release, the governor cited a report by the 2023 North Carolina Child Fatality Task Force that found gun deaths of children across the state increased  by more than 230% between 2012 and 2021. 

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Ben Sessoms covers Fayetteville and education for CityView. He can be reached at bsessoms@cityviewnc.com.

 

Cumberland County, guns, pistol permits, Ennis Wright

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