Virginia limits gun reciprocity; critics say North Carolina rules stronger

A plan to limit out-of-state concealed handgun permit holders in Virginia because the state’s top attorney finds similar laws to be less strict in North Carolina and 24 other states has drawn the ire of some gun owners and cheers from gun-control activists.

But a close reading of both states’ laws indicates that while Virginia’s law appears to allow fewer types of people to obtain a concealed handgun permit, North Carolina requires in-person gun safety training, even though more people might qualify for the permit.

Supporters of Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s decision this week to limit reciprocity point to his state’s numerous disqualifiers which aim to keep mentally ill people, convicted felons and certain others from obtaining a concealed handgun permit.

Similar laws are on the books in North Carolina. But North Carolina law provides more opportunities for people to obtain guns who are otherwise barred in Virginia.

Examples of differences include:

▪ A conviction of discharging a firearm in a public place in Virginia would deny someone a concealed handgun permit for three years; in North Carolina, it’s allowed.

▪ Treatment by court order at an outpatient mental health facility in the past five years disqualifies a person in Virginia; in North Carolina, such treatment does not automatically disqualify an applicant.

▪ Virginia law disqualifies a person deemed by local law enforcement to be “likely to use a weapon unlawfully or negligently to danger others;” North Carolina law contains no such clause.

In a news release this week, Herring’s office did not specify how North Carolina law doesn’t match Virginia’s permit requirements. The statement says the attorney general and Virginia State Police find 25 states currently covered by reciprocity have laws not “sufficient to prevent someone who is disqualified under Virginia law from receiving a concealed handgun permit.”

Herring’s office did not return phone calls and emails this week from McClatchy seeking clarification. The attorney general says reciprocity for North Carolina permit holders will end Feb. 1, 2016. Other states affected include Florida, South Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

North Carolina’s own reciprocity law for concealed handgun permit holders recognizes permits issued by any other state. North Carolina gun owners will still be able to obtain a concealed handgun permit from Virginia if they want to carry a gun across the state line.

I find it remarkable that Virginia would decide that North Carolina’s laws aren’t adequate for them.

Paul Valone, gun rights activist

Earlier this year, North Carolina lawmakers and Gov. Pat McCrory approved a legislative change that will no longer keep people convicted of certain misdemeanor crimes – domestic violence not included – from automatically being turned down for a concealed handgun permit after three years.

Those changes are seen by some as a move to “water down the requirements,” says Lee Denney of Raleigh Firearms Training, which offers concealed handgun permit classes.

Denney suspects the changes could be used as justification from Herring and others in Virginia that North Carolina’s regulations on concealed handgun permits are now weaker. Still, he predicts there will be some “backlash” over the change.

Herring’s decision on reciprocity appears based on the standards Virginia and other states set for who should be allowed to carry a concealed gun – not the process applicants must use to seek the permit.

In North Carolina, applicants must take a minimum eight-hour class on gun safety and law, including learning when the use of deadly force is allowed. To pass, permit seekers must also show proficiency in gun safety and accuracy on a gun range. A permit may then be issued by a local sheriff.

In Virginia, applicants may pass an online course to obtain a concealed gun permit. The state allows applicants to fulfill its firearm safety training requirement for the permit by taking an online class, but in-person courses are still available. A permit may then be issued by a local clerk of court.

“I find it remarkable that Virginia would decide that North Carolina’s laws aren’t adequate for them,” said Paul Valone, president of Grass Roots North Carolina, a pro-gun rights group.

He called called Herring’s decision a “political attempt to restrict the rights of gun owners.”

Larry Wegman of FTA Firearms, Inc., near Raleigh, took issue with the attorney general’s decision, saying Virginia’s laws don’t necessarily ensure adequate training for gun owners and North Carolina’s “standards are much higher.”

Wegman said he doesn’t speak for his employer, only himself, but as an “instructor and a citizen,” he called online-only safety training “dangerous.” He said he supports a person’s constitutional right to own and carry a gun, but worries that a potential deficit in safety training could lead to trouble for gun owners.

“If someone does something reckless or stupid,” Wegman said, “we all get painted with a broad brush.”