RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) The North Carolina General Assembly on Tuesday finalized another bill seeking to expand gun rights — this time in churches — and will send it to Gov. Roy Cooper, who vetoed a bill containing the same idea a year ago.
The Senate agreed 30-19 to House changes to Republican legislation that would allow members or visitors at churches that meet on private school campuses to carry a handgun if they have a concealed weapons permit.
Current law treats these places of worship differently than standalone religious venues, and bill supporters say these worshippers should have access to the same level of security when churches have been targets for violence. Ministers of several evangelical churches with affiliated schools spoke in committee earlier this year to request the option.
While a few Democrats joined all Republicans in voting for a broader gun bill in 2020 that contain the church language, Cooper managed to return enough Democrats to the fold last year to uphold his veto.
This year, five House Democrats and three Senate Democrats also joined with Republicans in approving the scaled-back measure.
The governor focused on the church provision in the 2020 measure, saying it threatened the safety of students and teachers.
There was no Senate debate before Tuesday’s vote. House Democrats said last week that the gun access sought in the measure wouldn’t help prevent violence. They suggested these congregations should hire off-duty police officers instead for security. But that the cost can be prohibitive for small churches, according to the Rev. Mark Creech with the Christian Action League of North Carolina.
“They’re not able to develop their own (armed) security team,” Creech said in an interview, adding that the churches “are vulnerable to some crazed soul that might walk in and want to start shooting.”
Cooper’s office didn’t immediately respond Tuesday to an email seeking comment on the bill heading to his desk.
As with last year’s bill, sponsors of the current measure say it contains protections for the schools that meet on the property. Permit holders can only carry a gun outside the school’s operating and activity hours, and these churches could still prohibit concealed weapons by posting a sign.
The bill also contains a separate provision also inserted into the 2020 bill that allows additional law enforcement employers — such as a civilian front desk worker at a police station — to carry a concealed weapon on the job if the police chief or sheriff allows it and the person has a concealed handgun permit.