It all started with an article at Conservative Daily News by Benjamin Wallace. Ben’s post described how Florida state lawmakers were able to remove overly-burdensome local regulations on gun ownership through state action. I realized that my State had a similar problem and perhaps could take advantage of a similar remedy.
In North Carolina, it is legal to purchase a handgun after obtaining a pistol purchase permit from your county sheriff’s office. But, in just one county, Durham, you are also required to register the pistol within 10-days of purchase. It is the only county in the entire state where the registration of any firearms is mandated and state law has no such provision.
There are two major problems with these impediments to firearm ownership. First, the requirement of a pistol purchase permit is nothing more than a hassle that was put in place during the Jim Crow era so that local officials could deny permits to blacks or otherwise decide who should and should not posses a firearm. Second, the Durham County requirement to then register a pistol after purchase is just one more step in an already painful process.
These two regulations together create a climate where law-abiding citizens may just not even bother to purchase a pistol just to avoid the hassle of dealing with a near 6 week long process that one must go through in order to own a handgun. It would seem that this is much the purpose.
As a citizen journalist and activist, I wanted to see if there was something I could do to remove these infringements upon the right to bear arms.
First, a prospective gun owner must obtain the pistol permit application from their County Sheriff. In Durham, the form requires two notarized affidavits from non-family members as to the applicants character, a copy of your driver’s license and social security card and some basic personal information.
The affidavits mean that you now have to disclose to someone that you intend to purchase a gun and that two people that you know are willing to go through the trouble to write an essay about you, give the County their personal information, and spend the time and money to get the affidavit notarized. An applicant is left to hope that their friends aren’t as scared of lawful gun ownership as the County government seems to be.
Once all the paperwork is filled in, it has to be hand-carried to the County Sheriff’s office where it starts a 30-day clock. Background checks are now instantaneous thanks to the National Instant Check System (NICS) so this 30-day processing period is nothing more than a 30-day waiting period – another undue barrier to gun ownership.
Once the application is approved, the applicant must go in-person to the County Sheriff where they can purchase two permits for the application. Each permit costs $5.00 and allows for the purchase of a single handgun. An applicant would have to go through this process for every other gun they wished to own.
The permit is required to transfer a handgun purchased outside the County, given as a gift to the applicant, or purchased within the county. The permit must be given to the transfer agent or the seller which they must retain forever.
Once the gun is transferred or purchased, Durham County requires the registration of the handgun within 10-days. Only Durham has this restriction and it seemed the most logical place to start in reversing these antiquated and restrictive regulations.
Finding an Ally
I realized that a County had a more strict regulation than provided for in the North Carolina Constitution so I contacted the Republican co-chair of the State and Local Government Committee in the North Carolina Senate – Senator Jim Davis. A simple email started it all.
Senator Davis,As the Republican co-chair of the State and Local Government committee, I would like to draw your attention to and request comment on a story we did on local government regulating the second amendment.The story: http://conservativedailynews.com/2011/08/guns-and-sunshine/, explains how the lawmakers at the state level prohibit local governments from creating confusing and complicated rules trying to regulate the right to bear arms, where the state had found it unnecessary. North Carolina has the same problem – Durham county.In Durham, hand guns require a permit to purchase -AND- must be registered after being purchased. It is the only county in North Carolina with this restriction.Would you sponsor a bill that would disallow local government’s from further taking away the rights of North Carolina citizens?Best Regards,Rich Mitchell
Within one day I had the response that let me know I had found the right lawmaker to get things changed.
Rich,I wasn’t aware of this problem. My office will do some research to determine if action is warranted.Jim
And two days later:
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me regarding Durham county’s firearm purchase policies. The strength of our 2nd amendment rights remains extremely important to me and my colleagues at the General Assembly. Our research and policy staff is currently researching the firearms provisions of Durham county, along with past action taken by the General Assembly regarding Durham, in order to assess the need for legislative action for the upcoming session of Spring 2012. I will get with you as soon as I hear back from research and policy staff (certainly within the week). My early research indicates that this legislation was originally put in place through a local bill. Normally, this would need to be a local bill introduced to repeal the original local bill.
I take this issue very seriously, and appreciate your bringing it to my attention.
The North Carolina Senate was in recess at the time of my inquiry, but Sen. Davis promised me he would work with his staff starting on Sept. 12th once they reconvened. I was skeptical, but set a reminder on my calendar to touch base with the Senator on the 14th.
Collecting the Data
When September 14th rolled around, I sent a short note to let him know that I wanted to do a series of articles hi-lighting the fact that some in our government are looking for opportunities to undo wrongs. He responded in a way that showed he was serious. He contacted me to relay the entirety of the research that his staff had completed and what they were expecting to complete in the next several days.
His staff had found the the bill that caused the undue regulation was recorded in Chapter 157, Public Laws of 1935. The bill is indeed specific to Durham County and forces the registration of pistols and similar firearms.
Locating the bill wasn’t where they stopped. His office also learned that the Administrative Office of the Courts, is unable to track if a violation of “failure to register firearm” has ever been committed because it is considered a local, not state matter. Carol Morris, Deputy Clerk to the Criminal Division in Durham County. She could not recall a single reporting of violation of the registration ordinance ever being filed.
The Senator’s office also found that there is no electronic data for the registration of pistols. All of the registrations are kept on paper, in large filing cabinets at the County office.
A local Durham City police officer has given some anecdotal evidence to why this might be happening. He says that if you are stopped and are otherwise lawfully in-possession of a handgun, an officer is not going to check to see if you bothered to register it. In fact, it would be nearly impossible to prove in a court of law. The officer would have to personally go down to the courthouse and try to find your registration in the massive paper records store. If he was unable to locate it, he would have to prove it had never been there – an impossible task. The County does not enforce this regulation showing even more that it is intended as nothing more than a barrier to legal gun ownership.
Senator Davis also reported that he was “currently waiting for numbers from the Durham County Sheriff’s office to report the number of pistol permits issued. The Clerk of Court’s office has verified that they do not have a count for the firearms registrations, but offered to let someone come over and count through or estimate the total number of registrations.” He offered that he was intending to send someone to do just that and “once we get the number of permits issued, we can hold that up against how many have actually registered and verify that the Court cannot remember/provide an instance in which this law has been violated to make a strong case for the repeal of this needless provision unique to Durham County which was originally passed in 1935.”
On top of the excellent research that the Senator’s office has done, there is statistical evidence to show that these kinds of regulations do no good whatsoever while costing taxpayers to fund an unnecessary office and process.
The county with the most-restrictive gun laws is also among those with the worst crime rates. Durham County had the 6th highest crime rate among all counties in the state for both 2008 and 2009. It would appear that overly restricting gun ownership may actually be making it easier for the criminals who do not need to respect gun laws and prefer the easier-to-pray-upon, relatively disarmed populace.
Durham’s violent crime rating, according to Sperling’s “Best Places to Live” is 6 on a scale of 1-10. Neighboring Wake County, that does not have the registration requirement on guns, fairs much better with a rating of 4 – and wake has a 300% larger population than that of Durham.
As everyone knows, legal gun ownership is not the issue. In areas of high legal gun ownership, violent crime rates tend to be much lower. In other highly-restrictive areas like Washington, D.C. and Chicago, violent crime rates have been soaring for decades.
The supreme court has ruled in McDonald v. Chicago that the second amendment could not be infringed at a State or local level. That case has direct bearing upon Durham’s law and should be instrumental in the dismantling of an out-dated and ineffective provision.
Creating the Bill to Repeal
Senator Davis is reaching out to Durham Senators McKissick and Atwater to see if either of them would object to the initiation of a bill to repeal this antiquated and unnecessary provision. Of course, I have written both Sens. McKissick and Atwater alerting them to this story, the law’s offensive Jim Crowe ancestry and the attention we are giving it.
Part 2 of this series will cover the actual legislation, who’s helping make it happen and who, if anyone, is trying to block it.