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Bill that would allow concealed guns in NC eateries clears committee

RALEIGH — People with legally concealed handguns could take their hidden weapons into more restaurants and to public parks in legislation that cleared a House committee today after debate that weighed if the public would be safer by offering it more immediate access to firearms.

A House judiciary committee recommended the measure to allow someone with a concealed handgun permit to carry the weapon when eating in a restaurant that serves alcohol, which is currently illegal. The law also would permit the hidden handgun in state parks and also prevent local governments from passing ordinances banning guns in parks they operate. Cities and counties could still prohibit concealed handguns in government buildings.

Private businesses and restaurants already can also post signs barring such weapons, but this bill would allow a person to carry the hidden firearm into a restaurant that sells alcohol if no conspicuous prohibition is posted.

The bill sponsors and gun-rights advocates argue the measure, the latest in a number of bills filed this year loosening gun laws getting more consideration in the Republican-led Legislature, will deter crime by stopping violent rampages and allow individuals to protect themselves. Otherwise, they must store their weapons out of reach.

“There’s not enough numbers of law enforcement to protect us. They’re there to clean up the mess after something happens,” said Rep. Jeff Barnhart, R-Cabarrus, one of the sponsors of the bill now headed to the House floor. “There’s no reason that a law-abiding citizen who follows the rules put in place be simply be allowed to go through their normal life … without having to worry about where they’re going to put their gun.”

Proponents pointed to several high-profile incidents of violent crime over the past two decades in North Carolina, including the 1993 shooting at a Fayetteville restaurant by a Fort Bragg soldier who killed four people, including the restaurant’s owners. Only eight states currently prohibit carrying a concealed weapon in restaurants that serve alcohol, and a majority allowing carrying in parks, said Anthony Roulette, a National Rifle Association lobbyist.

But the bill’s largely Democratic opponents on the committee said they wanted more data to show whether there was a persistent problem at these locations with crime. Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, said he’s worried that the local park exemption will lead to pistol-packing fans and youth sporting events that could get out of hand. Amendments that would have kept parks on the list of prohibited areas were narrowly defeated.

“I’m just afraid of what’s going to happen the first time two guys who are out there watching their kids play get into a fight and one of them is carrying a concealed weapon,” Jackson said.

Others suggested the expanded gun rights would create more possibilities for gun-related violence, not less, and create needless victims.

“Unfortunately, people who are not trained in self-defense get those guns taken away from them and are used against them more often than not,” said Colleen Kochanek, a lobbyist for the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “More people are harmed by guns than saved.”

Democrats did manage to get an amendment passed that would give restaurant waiters or barkeepers the option to ask a patron if they’re carrying a concealed weapon if they’re buying alcohol. Consuming alcohol while armed with such a hidden weapon is already unlawful. Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Wake, who penned the amendment, pointed out that servers already ask for identification to ensure the patron is old enough to drink: “I consider it a safety and a liability issue.”

The Senate already passed legislation last month that would create a legal presumption that people inside their home, car or business are justified in shooting an intruder.

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