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GOP to loosen state gun laws

In control of the North Carolina General Assembly for the first time in more than a century, Republican lawmakers are moving forward on a host of legislation that would greatly expand gun rights.

One such proposal, which passed the N.C. House Wednesday and will move to the Senate, would allow people with concealed handgun permits to bring their weapons into public parks and greenways as well as restaurants where alcohol is served. Restaurants, however, would still be able to individually ban guns at their discretion, and laws that ban permitted gun users from drinking while carrying a weapon would still apply. The bill also leaves the safety of children up to individual counties, which will be able to decide if the bill should or should not apply within certain proximity of park sporting facilities like baseball fields or pools.

Another bill under consideration would permit gun owners to lock their weapons in their cars while they are at work. Perhaps the most contentious piece of legislation, however, is a proposed extension of the Castle Doctrine, which currently affords legal protection exclusively to those who use deadly force against intruders in their homes, to cover an individual’s actions in his or her car and workplace.

Proponents of the extension said the Castle Doctrine, which has already cleared the Senate and is expected to become law this year, will protect North Carolinians’ right to defend themselves in situations in which they have a “reasonable” belief that their lives are in danger.

Paul Valone, president of Grass Roots North Carolina, a pro-gun rights advocacy group, noted that because the GOP is in control of the General Assembly, he believes that every piece of gun legislation currently being debated has a strong chance of becoming law. He added, though, that none of the bills would affect educational properties like college campuses, which currently ban all firearms.

In an interview, Republican state Sen. Thom Goolsby of New Hanover, who serves as the vice chair to the committee from which the Castle Doctrine extension bill originated, recounted an experience in which he brandished his pistol to successfully thwart an attempted robbery in Durham.

“At about one in the morning... I was unloading my bag [from my car] when I felt some presence behind me,” he said. “I did, in my trunk, happen to have my firearm available, so I put it down by my side and turned around and saw it was a guy trying to sneak up on me.... Later I found out he had a sharpened screwdriver.”

Goolsby said his would-be robber apologized and fled at the sight of the weapon, but added he has “no doubt” that he would have been robbed—and possibly assaulted—had he not been armed. An expanded Castle Doctrine, he said, would allow citizens who find themselves in similar—or worse—circumstances to defend themselves.

The bill’s opponents, however, said the proposed legislation would essentially legalize vigilantism.

As written, the bill permits an individual to use deadly force when he or she has a “reasonable fear of imminent death or serious bodily harm.” Extending such language to cover one’s actions in a car or workplace, said state Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr., D-Durham, would endanger innocent civilians.

Speaking to other lawmakers, McKissik described a situation in which an anxious gun owner might shoot an unarmed innocent and find protection under the proposed law, WRAL reported.

“The minute someone comes up and knocks on [your car window]—it might be a homeless person looking for a handout, could be somebody looking for directions, could be somebody sitting there trying to clean your windshield when you didn’t really want it cleaned—if you’re already apprehensive and your gun’s right there on the front seat, you might just decide to shoot them without really wondering what their true motives are,” he said. “And once that person’s dead, they’re not going to be able to testify about their intent.”

Valone said such claims are baseless.

“It’s not a make-my-day law,” he said. “We don’t shoot people at traffic lights. Although some legislators who oppose the legislation have suggested otherwise, no window-washers will get shot at traffic lights.”

Also under consideration are bills that would allow elected officials with concealed-carry permits to bear handguns anywhere in the state except where prohibited by federal law. Another bill would exempt any firearm, accessory and ammunition made and kept in North Carolina from federal regulation, The (Raleigh) News & Observer reported.

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