Our Opinion: N.C. lawmakers set their sights on firearm freedom

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Responsible gun owners will be able to carry concealed handguns without a permit and bring them onto public college and university campuses if a pair of firearm freedom bills pass muster in the General Assembly.

Rep. Larry Pittman, R-Cabarrus, introduced the Constitutional Carry Act last month as House Bill 69. The legislation would eliminate North Carolina’s concealed carry permit requirement and allow anyone who can lawfully possess a handgun to keep it tucked away in public.

The bill is part of a nationwide trend favoring gun rights, especially in states with Republican legislative majorities. Eleven states have passed constitutional carry laws and 16 others are considering them, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Advocates of constitutional carry say the Second Amendment’s “right of the people to keep and bear arms” includes displaying firearms openly and keeping them out of sight.

We find that interpretation convincing — there is no clause allowing government to restrict or license the means by which citizens can carry. Those who seek limits on gun rights are fond of comparing modern arms to Revolution-era muskets, but the Founding Fathers had flintlock pistols, too. They saw no need to limit concealment.

Currently, gun owners are required to complete an eight-hour safety class and apply for a concealed handgun permit from the sheriff of the county where they reside. The class includes a proficiency test, and a passing score requires 21 of 30 rounds to hit a silhouette-sized target at close range, a readily attainable goal. We encourage training and range practice, but do we need — and does the Constitution allow — the state to insist on it?

While federal courts have failed to curb concealed handgun restrictions, we think the Supreme Court’s ruling in the 1943 case Murdock v. Pennsylvania should apply: “No state shall convert a liberty into a license and charge a fee therefore.”

The Second Amendment is a right, not a privilege. Enough said.

Bills filed in the House March 2 by Rep. Kyle Hall, R-Stokes, and in the Senate on Tuesday by Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, would allow concealed handguns to be carried at University of North Carolina System and N.C. Community College System institutions.

The bills would apply whether or not HB 69 passes, providing that “a person who has a valid concealed handgun permit or a person who is exempt from obtaining a concealed handgun permit” can carry on campus.

Public colleges are a different animal from K-12 schools in that adult students are entitled to the full exercise of their constitutional rights, a point we make frequently in our defense of student speech too often silenced by unlawful codes of conduct. If the First Amendment applies, so should the Second.

Critics of campus carry will raise the grim specter of school shootings, but designated gun-free zones are no deterrent for violent criminals. Instead, they dissuade responsible, law-abiding citizens from arming themselves to defend their lives and those of their classmates in the event of such an attack.

These bills promote both liberty and safety, the latter through self-defense. They should become law.