Factsheet on NC’s Pistol Purchase Permitting System

North Carolina’s Pistol Purchase Permitting system saves lives across our state each year. By requiring a permit for anyone buying or receiving a handgun - including private sales and transfers between individuals - it closes a loophole left open by federal law. The permit, issued by the county sheriff where the purchaser/recipient lives1,i, is valid for five years, and may be used to purchase one handgun.2

North Carolina is among only ten states with a permit-to-purchase (PTP) system,3 and research supports PTP effectiveness: Connecticut’s firearm homicides declined 40% in the decade following implementation of its PTP law.4Conversely, Missouri’s annual firearm homicide rate increased 25% in the three years after Missouri repealed its PTP law.5,6 Similarly, Connecticut’s firearm suicide rate declined 15% after passing PTP, while Missouri’s increased 16% after the repeal of their PTP law.7

A national study on firearm homicides in large urban counties showed that PTP laws are the only laws associated with a clear decrease (11%) in firearm homicides in the urban counties; background checks without the purchase permit requirement were not effective – in fact, they were associated with a 10% increase.8,9

NC’s firearm-related deaths have been exceptionally high for the last several years: there were 1,416 deaths in 2018, the second highest since the 1990s (2017 was the highest: 1,430 deaths).10 We know from research that PTP laws prevent homicides and suicides, and repealing our current pistol purchase permit system would likely cause NC’s gun deaths to increase.

A study of guns traced to crime in 53 cities found that the PTP laws allowing police discretion were associated with 68% lower risk of guns being diverted to criminals when compared to states without such laws.11 Other research found that PTP laws are associated with a decrease in in-state crime gun access,12 and that discretionary PTP laws are associated with 76% lower risk for per capita out-of-state crime gun exports.13

According to a Johns Hopkins University 2018 study, 77% of adults surveyed, including 63% of gun owners, support laws that require prospective firearm purchasers to acquire a license (or permit) from local law enforcement.14

Currently, before issuing a permit, the sheriff must verify that it is not a violation of State or federal law for the applicant to possess a handgun. The sheriff is to make this determination by performing background checks from the previous five years of data from the following systems:

  • Electronic criminal history records check, maintained by the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) and the FBI.
  • National criminal history records check
  • A check in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS)
  • A criminal history check through the Administrative Office of the courts.15

Additionally, prior to issuing a permit, the sheriff must be fully satisfied that the applicant: (i) possesses good moral character--as evidenced by the applicant’s conduct and criminal history during the preceding five-year period; and (ii) desires to possess a pistol for a lawful purpose. Proof of the applicant’s good moral character may be established through affidavits, oral evidence, or otherwise.

Sheriffs are specifically prohibited from issuing permits to applicants for various reasons. These include, for example, if the applicant is under indictment of a felony, addicted to drugs, has been adjudicated incompetent, or has been dishonorably discharged from the military.

Footnotes:

iUnless the purpose of the permit is for collecting, in which case a sheriff can issue a permit to a nonresident.1

References:

1: North Carolina General Assembly. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-404.  Issuance or refusal of permit; appeal from refusal; grounds for refusal; sheriff's fee. http://www4.ncleg.net/enactedlegislation/statutes/html/bysection/chapter_14/gs_14-404.html

2: North Carolina General Assembly. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-403.  Permit issued by sheriff; form of permit; expiration of permit. http://www.ncleg.net/EnactedLegislation/Statutes/HTML/BySection/Chapter_14/GS_14-403.html

3: Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Licensing. http://lawcenter.giffords.org/gun-laws/policy-areas/gun-owner-responsibilities/licensing/

4: Rudolph KE, Stuart EA, Vernick JS, Webster DW. Association Between Connecticut's Permit-to-Purchase Handgun Law and Homicides. Am J Public Health. 2015 Aug;105(8):e49-54. Epub 2015 Jun 11.

5: Erratum to: Effects of the Repeal of Missouri’s Handgun Purchaser Licensing Law on Homicide. J Urban Health. Webster D, Crifasi CK, Vernick JS. J Urban Health. 2014 Apr;91(2):293-302. (Erratum published 08 May 2014.)

6: Webster D, Crifasi CK, Vernick JS. Effects of the repeal of Missouri's handgun purchaser licensing law on homicides. J Urban Health. 2014 Apr;91(2):293-302.

7:  Crifasi CK, Meyers JS, Vernick JS, Webster DW. Effects of changes in permit-to-purchase handgun laws in Connecticut and Missouri on suicide rates. Prev Med. 2015 Oct;79:43-9. Epub 2015 Jul 23.

8: Crifasi CK, Merrill-Francis M, McCourt A, Vernick JS, Wintemute GJ, Webster DW. Correction to: Association between Firearm Laws and Homicide in Urban Counties. J Urban Health. 2018 Oct;95(5):773-776.

9: Crifasi CK, Merrill-Francis M, McCourt A, Vernick JS, Wintemute GJ, Webster DW. Association between Firearm Laws and Homicide in Urban Counties. J Urban Health. 2018 Jun;95(3):383-390.

10: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020.) WISQARS Fatal Injury Reports, National, Regional and State, 1981 - 2018.

11: Webster DW, Vernick JS, Bulzacchelli MT. (2009). Effects of state-level firearm seller accountability policies on firearm trafficking. Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 86(4), 525–537.

12: Collins T, Greenberg R, Siegel M, Xuan Z, Rothman EF, Cronin SW, Hemenway D. State Firearm Laws and Interstate Transfer of Guns in the USA, 2006-2016. J Urban Health. 2018 Jun;95(3):322-336.

13: Webster DW, Vernick JS, McGinty EE, Alcorn T. Preventing the diversion of guns to criminals through effective firearm sales laws. In: Webster DW, Vernick JS, editors. Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis. Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press; 2013. p. 109–21.

14: Barry CL, Webster DW, Stone E, Crifasi CK, Vernick JS, McGinty EE. Public Support for Gun Violence Prevention Policies Among Gun Owners and Non-Gun Owners in 2017. Am J Public Health. 2018;108(7):878‐881. (Note. Gun owner percentage is included in the study text, overall percentage can be found in the study’s supplementary appendix.)

15: North Carolina General Assembly. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-404.  Issuance or refusal of permit; appeal from refusal; grounds for refusal; sheriff's fee. http://www4.ncleg.net/enactedlegislation/statutes/html/bysection/chapter_14/gs_14-404.html