by John Richardson (Reprinted with permission: No Lawyers – Only Guns and Money)
The North Carolina House of Representatives passed HB 1318 on March 10, 1919 and ushered in what we now call the pistol purchase permit system. Attempts to overturn this 96-year old law failed in the last session of the North Carolina General Assembly due to opposition from the sheriffs’ lobby. The battle is continuing in this session of the General Assembly with gun rights groups and Republicans on one side and gun control groups, the NC Sheriffs Association, and Democrats on the other.
In an earlier post, I detailed some of the racial climate of North Carolina and how that led to the bill’s passage. This post will detail how the law has changed over the years since 1919. In subsequent posts, I plan to examine the personalities involved, the political machine behind it, and the bills passage through both houses of the General Assembly. While we are currently fighting the NC Sheriffs Association over the passage of HB 562, it was not until 1959 that the duty of issuing purchase permits was transferred from the Clerks of the Superior Court to the sheriffs.
The Law As Passed
The General Asse[m]bly of North Carolina do enact: Section 1. That it shall be unlawful for any person, firm, or corporation in this State to sell, give away or dispose of, or to purchase or receive, at any place within the State from any other place within or without the State, without a license or permit therefor shall have first been obtained by such purchaser or receiver from the clerk of the Superior Court of the county which such purchase, sale, or transfer is intended to be made, any pistol, so-called pump-gun, bowie knife, dirk, dagger or metallic knucks.
Sec. 2. That the clerks of the Superior Courts of any and all counties of this State are hereby authorized and directed to issue to any person, firm, or corporation in any such county a license or permit to purchase or receive any weapon mentioned in section one of this act from any person, firm, or corporation offering to sell or dispose of the same, which said license or permit shall be in the following form, to wit:
I, ___________________________clerk of the Superior Court of said
county, do hereby certify that ___________________________whose
place of residence is ________________________________Street, in
____________________(or) in______________________ Township
_________________________County, North Carolina, having this day
satisfied me as to his, her (or) their good moral character, and
that the possession of one of the weapons described in section one
of this act is necessary for self-defense or the protection of the
home, a license or permit is therefore hereby given said________________
_________________________________________to purchase one pistol,
(or) ____________________________________________from any per-
(If any other weapon is named, strike out word pistol.) son, firm, or corporation authorized to dispose of the same.
This ______________day of ______________________________, 19___
Clerk Superior Court.
Sec. 3. That before the clerk of the Superior Court shall issue any such license or permit he shall fully satisfy himself by affidavits, oral evidence, or otherwise, as to the good moral character of the applicant therefor, and that such person, firm, or corporation requires the possession of such weapon mentioned in section one of this act for protection of the home: Provided, that if said clerk shall not be so fully satisfied, he shall refuse to issue said license or permit : and Provided further, that nothing in this act shall apply to officers authorized by law to carry firearms. The clerk shall charge for his services upon issuing such license or permit a fee of fifty cents.
Sec. 4. That the clerk of the Superior Court shall keep a book, to be provided by the board of commissioners of each county, in which he shall keep a record of all licenses or permits issued under this act, including the name, date, place of residence, age, former place of residence, etc., of each such person, firm, or corporation to whom or which a license or permit shall have been so issued.
Sec. 5. That each and every dealer in pistols, pistol cartridges and other weapons mentioned in section one of this act shall keep an accurate record of all sales thereof, including the name, place of residence, date of sale, etc., of each person, firm, or corporation, to whom or which any and all such sales are made, which said record shall be open to the inspection of any duly constituted State, county or police officer, within this State.
Sec. 6. That during the period of listing taxes in each year the owner or person in possession or having the custody or care of any pistol or other weapon mentioned in section one of this act shall he, and is hereby, required to list the same specifically, together with the value thereof, as is now required by law for listing other personal property for taxes : Provided, that all persons listing any such weapons for taxes as aforesaid shall also be required to designate his place of residence, local street address, or otherwise as the case may be.
Sec. 7. That any person, firm, or corporation violating any of the provisions of this act shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and fined or imprisoned in the discretion of the court.
Sec. 8. That upon submission or conviction of any person in this State for unlawfully carrying concealed weapons off of his own premises, the pistol or other deadly weapon with reference to which the defendant shall have been convicted shall be condemned and ordered confiscated and destroyed by the judge presiding at any such trial.
Sec. 9. That this act shall be in force from and after the first day of April, one thousand nine hundred and nineteen. Ratified this 10th day of March. A.D. 1910.
The General Assembly adopted two changes to the original concealed weapons bill. First, it made it unlawful to receive one of the weapons mentioned in the original bill by mail, railroad express, or any other common carrier unless you possessed the permit from the Clerk of the Superior Court. You were also required to present that permit to the mail carrier, postmaster, railroad agent, etc before taking delivery of the weapon.
This amendment also specified the fine and potential prison term for violation of the law. Fines were to be from $50 to $250 while the prison terms were not less than 30 days nor more than six months. All of the above were at the discretion of the court.
The changes to the law in 1947 were very minor. As part of an omnibus revision of a number of state statutes, blackjacks and slung-shot were added to the list of weapons that required a purchase permit from the Clerk of the Superior Court.
HB 1048 made major changes in the administration of the purchase permit law. It transferred responsibility from the Clerks of the Superior Court and gave it to the Sheriff of each county. The sheriffs were now made responsible for issuing permits and keeping records of the issuance of the permits. It was also the sheriff’s responsibility to dispose of confiscated weapons.
Interestingly, this amendment did not apply in all counties. 41 counties were excluded from this act. While most were small counties in the eastern and western parts of the state, the most significant exclusion was Mecklenburg County.
Historic edged weapons were defined to be any bayonet, trench knife, sword, or dagger manufactured during or prior to WWII (as late as January 1, 1946). These and antique firearms previously defined as those made prior to 1899 or muzzle loading firearms were excluded from the purchase permit requirement. As an aside, it is interesting that edged weapons from the Korean Conflict and Vietnam War were not excluded.
Three significant changes were made in this amendment by SB 213. First, the permit was now required to be obtained from the sheriff in the county in which the purchaser or receiver resided. It has been previously required to be obtained in the county in which the sale or receipt took place.
The second major change was that any provisions of local acts in conflict with these changes were repealed. As noted in the 1959 Amendment, it only applied to 59 counties.
The third major change was that the list of weapons now only included pistols. Dirks, daggers, bowie knives, metallic knucks, blackjacks, slung shot, and “so-called pump guns” were now excluded from the permit requirement.
Interesting Sec. 3 and Sec. 4 still refer to obtaining permits from the Clerk of the Superior Court even though this requirement was changed in 1959.
While the 1979 amendment dropped everything but pistols from the permit requirement, this amendment headed in the opposite direction by adding crossbows to the law. Crossbows were added because a person ineligible to purchase a firearm used a crossbow to murder someone in Union County according to former Union County sheriff and later NC Rep. Frank McGuirt.
This amendment was part of a larger omnibus bill that codified classes of misdemeanors. Rather than being a fine of up to $200 and/or imprisonment of up to six months, the penalty was now listed as a “Class 2” misdemeanor. This was the mid-range classification which meant imprisonment for more than 30 days but less than six months.
HB 817 provided that a North Carolina Concealed Handgun Permit could substitute for the pistol/crossbow purchase permit.
HB 281 made grammatical corrections and changes to the law.
These changes concerned crossbows and the definition of a crossbow dealer, manufacturer, and wholesaler. It deemed the permits issued to dealers, wholesalers, and manufacturers as being continuing permits with no expiration date.
Just as the 1993 bill added the crossbow to the purchase permit requirement, so SB 406 repealed the requirement to get a “pistol permit” to buy a crossbow.
This bill also clarified that persons under indictment for or who have been convicted of a felony were not eligible to be issued permits. However, pursuant to a NC Supreme Court ruling, the bill excepted those convicted of felonies involving antitrust violations, unfair trade practices, or restraints of trade. It also said that a person who had been pardoned or who had his or her firearm rights restored could obtain a pistol purchase permit.