by Rob Yates, LPNC Communications Director
The Tar Heel sat down with Andy Stevens, Vice President of Operations and Board member at Grass Roots North Carolina (GRNC), an organization working tirelessly to defend our Second Amendment rights in North Carolina. Andy is also the North Carolina State Director for Gun Owners of America (Gunowners.org). A lot has been going on that affects your 2A rights in NC, much of which the LPNC has communicated to you in real time over the last month. Because of pressure from Liberty warriors, we saw both the removal of NC's anti-Black pistol permit restriction law, and the override of Governor Cooper's veto that would've left that Jim Crow law in place.
Now, we are looking at the potential for Constitutional carry to be reinstated in NC, but, as always is the case when politicians are involved, we are up against politics. Few people have a deeper understanding of the issue and the inner working of the surrounding politics than Andy, so we wanted to hear more from the insider's perspective.
Tar Heel: Andy, thank you so much for talking to us today. Before we get into the bills and changes in the legislature, tell us a little bit about yourself and about GRNC. How did you get involved, and what is your role there?
Andy Stevens: I'm a North Carolina "transplant" having grown up in Chicago, Illinois. I received an appointment to the United States Military Academy, West Point just before turning 18 and never turned back. During my service I was assigned to the XVIII Airborne Corps at Ft. Bragg in the early 80s and liked the state even back then. I permanently relocated to North Carolina in 2000 and have been a resident ever since. In 2012 and 2013, I became interested in gun rights and started using my free time to visit legislators in Raleigh as an individual. During my visits, I often ran across F. Paul Valone, GRNC President, doing the same thing, and saw the effectiveness of joining voices and efforts with an organization demonstrating a record of success. Truth be known, Paul Valone cornered me in a hallway one day and made me an offer I couldn't refuse, lol. The rest is history. Currently I'm a member of the GRNC Board of Directors and serve as GRNC Director of Legislative affairs and Vice-President of Operations. By the way, we are all unpaid, 100 percent volunteers. No dues, money, or donations going to fancy suits and shoes.
I'd also point out to your readers that I am the NC State Director with Gun Owners of America. Again, in this role with this organization I take great pride that I am not a paid employee, but, by my choice, an unpaid volunteer.
I do what I do for gun rights because I believe what I do is important beyond monetary compensation. Therefore, no one can falsely tag me with the "gun lobbyist" moniker.
Tar Heel: GNRC has accomplished so much in the past. Is there one legislative accomplishment of which you are most proud?
Stevens: Well, there have been many, but, of course, what got me into this fight in the first place was our racist, Jim Crow Pistol Purchase Permit system. As I began to collect firearms, I found it totally in variance with the Bill of Rights to submit to special trips to a sheriff's office and unnecessary waiting to receive permission slips of paper to purchase handguns, especially when rifles and shotguns did not require such procedures. Thus, my satisfaction in achieving its repeal a few weeks ago. Doing so over the veto of anti-gun, anti-Liberty Governor Roy Cooper was icing on the cake.
Tar Heel: That's a great segue into the current situation. Before we look at HB 189, though, can you explain, briefly, the pistol permit restrictions that were previously codified in law? Wehave covered this for our readers before to a degree, so I was hoping you could focus in particular on the operational aspects of that rule – why it contributes to so many delays in purchases and who it affects.
Stevens: Both our previous Pistol Purchase Permit and our current Concealed Handgun Permit systems were and continue to be flawed. They stand between citizens immediately exercising their rights to keep and bear arms. Despite state statutes, one hundred individual county sheriffs administer both programs. Some stay within the intent of the law, and others historically and currently abuse it.
The PPP by statute required your county sheriff to issue a permit or declare why not within fourteen days of application. Now, in Stokes County, my home, my Sheriff could accomplish this within 30 minutes. The same day! Not too inconvenient at all, except for the fact one had to go there in the first place.
However, sheriffs in counties like Wake, Guilford, and especially Mecklenburg, decided they could take weeks, months, years to drag out the issue. My two organizations have sued the Wake and Mecklenburg County Sheriffs multiple times and won judgements over the now repealed Pistol Purchase Permits and we are currently suing the Mecklenburg County Sheriff in Federal Court over his willful delays issuing Mecklenburg County applicants their Concealed Handgun Permits.
Interestingly, the newest Republican member of the NC Legislature, Representative Trisha Cotham, lives in Mecklenburg County. As a result of her recent Party switch, she and her family have been receiving credible threats, including death threats. At the legislature, she is provided physical security. At home, she is left to her own devices. She has applied for a concealed handgun permit, but, of course, her sheriff, Garry McFadden, has yet to see fit to issue her one. No better example of the need for permitless, or Constitutional, carry could be made, and this is the real-world example, not just a hypothetical example.
Tar Heel: That's so important to understand, as HB 189 would eliminate those barriers from people like Representative Cotham who have real need for protection. Can you further explain to the Tar Heel readers exactly what HB 189 does?
Stevens: In a nutshell, HB 189 would accomplish several objectives. First it would allow anyone in North Carolina who met the qualifications for issue of a CHP permit the right to carry in North Carolina without an actual permit. This, of course, would solve the perilous situation Representative Cotham currently finds herself in. It would also solve the real, although temporary, situation new residents find themselves in when they move to North Carolina and establish residence here. One cannot immediately apply for and receive even a temporary permit and new residents are thus left without being able to legally conceal carry until application and receipt of a permit.
Second, it specifically retains and does not repeal our current system of sheriff-issued concealed handgun permits. This is important because reciprocity with other states would terminate without an individually issued permit. Very important if you carry a handgun beyond our state's borders, for example. There are also federal statutes that limit where one can carry concealed without a permit that differs from where one can with a permit. Therefore, it is important to know the laws governing open and concealed carry in North Carolina. We can discuss this further in a moment, if you like.
Third, it reduces the age for lawful concealed carry to 18 versus the current 21. A federal appeals court has already ruled artificial age restrictions above age 18 are unconstitutional.
Finally, the last major piece of the bill would allow for expanded places of carry for elected officials. As was pointed out in the bill's debate, elected officials do make decisions that result in threats, including death threats. Not just Representative Trisha Cotham, either. Most importantly, this would allow legislators and elected officials to carry in the legislative buildings. This expanded carry privilege currently exists for some elected officials such as judges, district attorneys, and the like.
Tar Heel: But it wasn't clear cut, correct? Specifically, what was the training requirement? Why was that potentially problematic, or maybe a better question is, why are people over-reacting to that?
Stevens: Yes, training has become an unnecessary flashpoint regarding this bill. Ordinarily, a "true" constitutional carry bill would not encumber the citizen with a mandated training component. The bill, as originally drafted, was to be a Constitutional carry bill. However, such a bill would not, and I repeat, would not pass in the current legislature as a true Constitutional carry bill. The Speaker of the House, Representative Tim Moore, directed that a training component be added to the bill or he simply would not run it through his chamber. After much discussion, we at GRNC and GOA decided to support the bill with a training component to advance the bill. The merits of the bill even as a now-redefined permitless with training bill represent a significant improvement over our existing concealed handgun permit statute. During the hearing process, we recognized changing the nature of the bill required renaming it as well. Constitutional carry was removed from the title and the bill was simply and accurately renamed the "NC Freedom to Carry" bill.
Tar Heel: Following up on that, this seemed like a done deal just a few days ago, when you, LPNC members, and other defenders of Liberty gathered at the State House to make our voices heard. What changed since then, and what is the outlook right now?
Stevens: What changed? Well, at the last minute, the NRA stepped in and, without ever having been a part of the discussion, decided to kill the bill as it was not a "pure" Constitutional carry bill. More importantly, they killed it because it was not "their" bill. But guess what? Ask the NRA, where is their bill? The reality is, they never offered to run a Constitutional carry bill in this session of the legislature. Don't take my word, but ask the principal bill sponsor, Representative Keith Kidwell, of his opinion of the NRA. I dare say you won't be able to publish the result.
Of course, the reality also exists that some of the Republican supermajority in the House are not as fully supportive of gun rights as we'd like. There continues to be grumbling in the caucus of both chambers that voting on Constitutional carry, or even this version of permitless carry, is a step too far for them. Why? Because it may cost them their reelection in competitive districts. In other words, legislators often are more interested in their self-preservation and reelection than they are in the natural and Constitutional rights of their constituents. Surprised? Don't be! That's the reality of why, for example, it's taken ten years to repeal the PPP.
Tar Heel: The LPNC put out a call to action for people to sign your petition, which seemed to make a difference. What else can people do to send the message that they do not support politicians who do not support their rights?
Stevens: Encourage and support their competition. Run for political office yourself, or support candidates who share your views and positions. Do not concede the political battlefield to incumbents interested merely in their own reelection. In our situation, unfortunately, the best place to challenge incumbents is in the primary and not the general election. That's where unaffiliated voters can play a tremendous spoiler role. As for the Libertarian Party, develop and promote your own viable candidates. The key will be to focus on breaking the monopoly of the two-party system in Raleigh. Winning a well targeted race or two will send fear into the rest who will discover it "could happen to them," losing an election, too.
Tar Heel: If this ultimately fails, how can we hold our elected officials accountable?
Stevens: Politicians who are focused on reelection are often unwilling to take controversial positions and simultaneously make calculated decisions that take their base of support for granted. After all, "who else will gun rights voters vote for?" Replacing them at the ballot box is generally done during the primary, but promoting viable, electable third-party candidates, such as Libertarians, comes into play because, unfortunately, the reality is 95 percent of incumbents of either party who choose to run for reelection generally win.
Tar Heel: While we acknowledge that the LPNC, the GNRC, and other defenders of Liberty don't see eye-to-eye on every issue – in fact, we think it would be awful if everyone agreed on everything – we are big on single-issue coalitions where we work together to move causes forward where we do agree. What can Libertarians in North Carolina do to help you all move the needle toward protecting 2A rights for all the citizens of our state, and where do you see GRNC playing a role in helping amplify the actions we are taking in the LPNC?
Stevens: Add your voice to ours! Sign up for our GRNC and GOA state level alerts notifications to keep informed of developments, and most of all, follow the suggested actions to take. Our rights are continually under attack. We must remain vigilant, and we must forcefully push back against every assault upon our right to keep and bear arms.
Tar Heel: Andy, thank you so much for your time today. One final question for you, what message do you have for lovers of Liberty out there who want to preserve 2A rights, but also want to do so in a safe and responsible manner? How can they move forward, and how can they make their voices heard?
Stevens: Don't give up the fight. Get involved yourselves. Get others to raise their voices with yours. Join organizations of like-minded people like GOA, GRNC, or other freedom-endorsing groups. Liberty is not a two-party affair, either. The Libertarian Party of NC has long been recognized as one that fully supports Constitutional guarantees and freedoms. LP of NC candidates for office who return our GRNC Candidate surveys are generally, without question, rated as GRNC 4 STAR.
We at GRNC and GOA do not believe HB 189, or something similar, is dead in the current session. We will be working proactively with bill sponsors to advance the merits of this bill in the current session and will undertake efforts to improve its prospects, if necessary, as we move into the next general election cycle. Again, subscribe to our GRNC and GOA state level alerts and stay informed.
I've enjoyed talking with you today and I look forward to doing so again.