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General Assembly police bill could create ‘politically inspired mischief’

RALEIGH — It’s hardly came as a surprise that, after gaining control of the North Carolina General Assembly, Republicans moved quickly to loosen gun laws in the state.

Republicans have always been more closely aligned to gun rights activists.

That the legislature would approve some version of the Castle Doctrine, which provides more legal protections to people who shoot intruders entering their home, became a foregone conclusion.

Legislation allowing holders of concealed handgun permits to take their guns into restaurants serving alcohol and parks has met more resistance. The same is true for a bill that would bar employers from keeping their employees from locking their guns away in a car on a company parking lot.

The bills may ultimately be seen as political overreaching by Republicans and could cost them at the ballot box in 2012 — or maybe not.

Most polls show a majority of North Carolinians supporting the right to carry concealed handguns. In rural areas, in particular, keeping quick access to a firearm is hardly seen as something only done by “gun nuts.”

Some top law enforcement officials have made it clear that they don’t like expanding the places where concealed handguns can be taken.

In any case, the back-and-forth reflects a legitimate political divide when it comes to North Carolinians and what they think of guns.

At least it’s a debate being held in the open, with the motives of each side clearly discernable.

That’s not exactly the case with another piece of legislation that involves guns and who totes them when and where.

Already approved by the House, the bill would expand the powers of the 21-member General Assembly police. Right now, those powers are pretty much limited to Raleigh, unless officers are providing security for groups of legislators holding hearings or otherwise officially meeting outside the state capital.

The bill would expand that authority, allowing General Assembly police to serve subpoenas, conduct criminal investigations involving threats against legislators and provide security and planning for something called “continuity of government.”

When the bill popped out of a Senate committee, it contained a new, mysterious provision allowing legislative leaders to waive building rules. The purpose — though not stated anywhere in the bill — is to allow the two legislative sergeant-at-arms, responsible for both legislative meeting organization and security, to carry concealed handguns in the Legislative Building.

The legislation is troubling on a couple of accounts.

One, the broad rule waiver is an obvious effort to hide the intent. Two, the cumulative effect is to take a building security force and turn it into a wide-ranging, legislator-directed police force, with the possibility for politically inspired mischief.

Legislative leaders have a duty to be concerned about Legislative Building security. House speakers and Senate presidents pro tem occupy high-profile positions. The time may have come for them to be assigned armed security in the same manner as the governor and lieutenant governor.

That doesn’t mean North Carolina needs a broadly empowered police force directed by the most political branch of government.

Scott Mooneyham writes about North Carolina politics for the Capitol Press Association.

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