The argument against North Carolina’s pistol purchase permit system has been that it was a racist era law meant to keep blacks from owning handguns, that it is ignored by criminals, and that the FBI run NICS system is more up-to-date and less subjective than the state’s sheriffs.
It appears someone was listening. Joel Burgess of the Asheville Citizen-Times did a story on Monday that examined the rates of approval for pistol purchase permits and concealed handgun permits in five western (North Carolina) counties. The context for the story were the executive actions and gun control proposals released in January by President Obama. What was most surprising about the story was that Burgess acknowledged some of the objections to the pistol purchase permit system.
But Obama’s order will have little effect in North Carolina when it comes to handguns. The weapon already faces more scrutiny in this state because of a Jim Crow-era law once aimed at blocking African-American gun ownership. But sheriffs now say the law is a critical stopgap allowing them to use local knowledge to prevent tragedies.
With regard to the subjectivity, he reported this:
The law is not uniformly followed, sheriff’s acknowledge, nor is it enforced at the same rate, according to 2013-2015 data collected by the Citizen-Times through a public records request. Henderson County Sheriff Charles McDonald, whose department had the highest permit denial rate, said he will defend private gun ownership, but that he will also sometimes say no based on things not revealed in a background check.
“Maybe you’re the guy in the neighborhood who is constantly getting drunk and beating up his wife, and maybe you haven’t been convicted in court. But we know.”
Henderson County Sheriff McDonald’s example makes for a good story but you have to wonder if that is the really the reason behind the number of denials in Henderson County. Given the peculiar demographics of Henderson County – a significant Hispanic population and an extremely large number of retirees – does either ethnicity or advanced age play a greater role in permit denial than alcoholism or domestic abuse.
That might make an interesting follow-on story by the Citizen-Times.