How will the new gun bans affect me?

I’ve written previously about North Carolina gun laws that can affect the ownership, use, and possession of guns.

People convicted of felonies are prohibited from owning, possessing or carrying weapons or ammunition under North Carolina and federal criminal law.

In addition, federal laws make it illegal for someone convicted of certain Domestic Violence offenses from ever possession weapons. Federal gun possession laws include up to a 10 year maximum sentence.

Federal laws also include enhancements if guns are used, carried, or possessed as part of crimes. The most striking is the 924(c) enhancement that creates a 15 to life sentence for the use, possession, or carrying of a firearm during a drug sale or drug transaction.

For regular citizens who simply want to purchase handguns, North Carolina requires people to obtain handgun permits from their local sheriff’s office. In Wake County, people need to go to the Public Safety Center on Salisbury St. south of Martin as described on the Wake County Sheriff’s website and submit a request for up to five (5) permits at a time.

People who have concealed carry permits do not need handgun permits in order to purchase firearms. The concealed carry permit allows the person to purchase a handgun because indicates that the holder has been through the requisite background search.

North Carolina and federal law have restrictions on the types of weapons that can be sold. Suppressors, short-barreled shotguns, automatic weapons, and explosive weapons are prohibited, unless specially authorized by the ATF or because the person is a law enforcement officer with special authorization.

North Carolina Gun Laws and Regulations

What are the different types of guns?
What is an “assault rifle” and what was the assault weapons ban? Does it still apply?
Do all guns need to be registered? What guns are illegal to own?
Who can own a gun? Who can’t?
What kind of permit do I need to buy or own a gun?
What is the gun show exemption or loophole?
Is there any limit on how many guns you can own?
Are there certain types of ammunition that are illegal to own or that you need a permit for? Is there a limit to how much ammunition you can have?
Where can I have a gun and where can’t I?
What is a concealed handgun permit? What does it allow me to do?

What are the different types of guns?

Automatic: This refers to any weapon that is designed to feed cartridges, fire them, eject their empty cases and repeat this cycle as long as the trigger is depressed and cartridges remain in the magazine. Purchasing such a fully automatic weapon requires going through a criminal background check, paying a $200 tax and taking other steps.

A quick reading of federal firearms laws would seem to allow for the terms “automatic” and “machine gun” to be used interchangeably. A machine gun is “any weapon which shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot, automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.” But gun experts differ.

Semiautomatic: Semiautomatic weapons fire one bullet each time their trigger is pulled. Most modern handguns and many long rifles are semiautomatic. How quickly a semiautomatic weapon can fire depends on the design of the weapon and how fast the user can pull the trigger. But it would not be unreasonable to expect an experience shooter to be able to empty a 17 round magazine from a modern semiautomatic handgun in fewer than 10 seconds.

Bolt action, lever action, etc…: Weapons that are not either automatic or semiautomatic require the shooter to take some action other than pressing the trigger each time a shot is fired. For example, a bolt action rifle requires a shoot to lift, pull back, and then close a mechanism before another round of ammunition can be loaded and the trigger pulled a second time.

Other terms describe how a gun is designed to operate and the type of ammunition it typically fires. For example, federal law defines a rifle as “a weapon designed or redesigned, made or remade, and intended to be fired from the shoulder and designed or redesigned and made or remade to use the energy of the explosive in a fixed cartridge to fire only a single projectile through a rifled bore for each single pull of the trigger.”

Handguns: A handgun is synonymous with pistol.

What is an “assault rifle” and what was the assault weapons ban?

The terms “assault weapon” or “assault rifle” are some of the most contentious in the debates over gun control laws.

North Carolina law doesn’t define “assault rifle” or “assault weapon,” even though it is still used in some federal literature.

Practically speaking, the federal government tried to outlaw “assault weapons,” those that serve no purpose other than killing people, in 1994. According to the ATF, the semiautomatic assault weapon ban “made it unlawful to manufacture, transfer, or possess SAWs. The law defined SAWs as 19 named firearms, as well as semiautomatic rifles, pistols, and shotguns that have certain named features.” The ban also made it illegal to sell ammunition magazines that allowed a gun to accept more than 10 rounds of ammunition at a time.

The federal assault weapon ban expired in 2004. Even when it was in effect, the ban”imperfect” and there were many exceptions, but President Barack Obama has proposed reviving something similar in response to the shootings in Newtown, Conn.

In general, it is more precise to talk about a semiautomatic or automatic weapon than an “assault rife.”

Do all guns need to be registered? What guns are illegal to own?

According to the ATF, “There is no federal registration requirement for most conventional sporting firearms. Only those firearms subject to the National Firearms Act (NFA) (e.g., machineguns, short-barrel firearms, silencers, destructive devices, any other weapons) must be registered with ATF.”

In North Carolina, there is no statewide registration requirement for most weapons other than someone who purchases a pistol must obtain a pistol permit from the sheriff of the county in which he or she resides. There is still a local act that requires gun owners in Durham to register their weapons at the courthouse, but it is unclear how strictly that law is enforced or if law enforcement ever use the information gathered through the procedure. There are also registration requirements for certain “machine guns” that are owned for the protection of businesses or as trophies of war.

North Carolina law also bans rifles with a barrel length of less than 16 inches or an overall length of less than 26 inches, shotguns with a barrel length of less than 18 inches or an overall length of 26 inches, mufflers and silencers for any firearm, as well as the parts necessary to convert a semiautomatic weapon to a fully automatic weapon. (There are federal permits — technically tax stamps — that allow gun owners to posses such weapons and accouterments, but they are cumbersome to apply for and expensive — $200 — to obtain.)

Who can own a gun? Who can’t?

Gun sales and ownership are governed by a mix of state and federal laws. Groups including the NRAand Brady Campaign have compiled compendia of state laws.

In North Carolina, the N.C. Department of Justice publishes a manual of North Carolina Firearms Laws, which was last updated in 2011. It is currently being updated to reflect the effects of recent court decisions and changes to state laws.

According to the North Carolina Firearms Law, the following are ineligible to receive or posses a firearm under federal law:

Persons under indictment of information in any court for a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year.
Persons convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year. (A person is not ineligible if they have been pardoned for the crime or have had their civil rights restored.)
The person is a fugitive from justice.
The person is an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana, any depressant, stimulant or narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance.
The person has been adjudicated mentally defective or has been committed to a mental institution.
The person has been discharged from the U.S. armed forces under dishonorable conditions.
The person is illegally in the United States.
The person has renounced his or her citizenship.
The ATF provides additional descriptions of who is restricted from buying firearms under federal lawhere, although the list is quite similar to the North Carolina list.

In addition, North Carolina sheriffs are not allowed to issue pistol purchase permits to any applicant subject to certain kinds of domestic violence restraining order. Specifically, judges would have to have found the person subject to the order posses a danger to another individual. Those subject to such orders are required to surrender any permits and weapons they have to the local sheriff’s department until the order is lifted.

There are special rules for gun ownership and possession for those under 21-years-old.

Federally licensed firearm dealers are allowed to sell handguns, rifles and shotguns to people 21-years-old or older. Federally licensed dealers may sell rifles and shotguns – but not handguns –to those aged 18, 19 or 20 and are not allowed to sell to those under age 18.

GS 14-316 says, ” It shall be unlawful for any parent, guardian, or person standing in loco parentis, to knowingly permit his child under the age of 12 years to have the possession, custody or use in any manner whatever, any gun, pistol or other dangerous firearm, whether such weapon be loaded or unloaded, except when such child is under the supervision of the parent, guardian or person standing in loco parentis. It shall be unlawful for any other person to knowingly furnish such child any weapon enumerated herein.” Air rifles and BB guns don’t count as “dangerous weapons” under this law.

State law further says that anyone under 18-years-old should only be allowed posses a handgun under certain situations, generally under adult supervision. However, children aged 12 through 17 are allowed to own and possess a rifle or a shotgun if it is given to them as a gift or sold to them by someone who is not a federally licensed firearms dealer.

What kind of permit do I need to buy or own a gun?

Federal law requires federally licensed firearm dealers to check the National Instant Criminal Background Check System when selling a firearm. According to the FBI, “NICS is used by Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs) to instantly determine whether a prospective buyer is eligible to buy firearms or explosives. Before ringing up the sale, cashiers call in a check to the FBI or to other designated agencies to ensure that each customer does not have a criminal record or isn’t otherwise ineligible to make a purchase.”

North Carolina state law ads on some additional rules.

According to the North Carolina Firearm Laws manual, “it is unlawful for any person, firm, or corporation to sell, give away, transfer, purchase, or receive, at any place in the state, any pistol, unless the purchases or receiver has first obtained a license or permit to receive such a pistol by the sheriff of the count where the purchaser or receiver resides….This requirement to obtain a permit prior to the transfer of a pistol applies not only to a commercial transaction typically at a sporting goods store but also between private individuals or companies throughout North Carolina.”

People who want a pistol purchase permit must apply to their sheriff’s department, which will do a background check that includes a search of the NICS registry. A concealed handgun permit (see below) may stand in for a pistol purchase permit. Law enforcement officers may also buy a handgun without a pistol purchase permit.

Someone who has been issued either a pistol purchase permit or a concealed handgun permit does not have to be checked against NICS in order to buy a handgun, shotgun, or rifle.

What is the gun show exemption or loophole?

This is another place where advocates for more gun control laws and gun rights groups spar over the language involved as well as the laws in question. In general, this phrase is used to describe the difference between sales by license firearm dealers and sales by private individuals. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported in December, “Anyone buying a gun from a licensed dealer at a gun show – such as those often held in Fort Worth – must go through a background check. But more than two dozen states, including Texas, allow private weapon sales at gun shows with no background checks.”

The ATF devotes a lengthy Q+A to the topic of gun sales by unlicensed individuals. From that ATF summary:

“A person may sell a firearm to an unlicensed resident of his State, if he does not know or have reasonable cause to believe the person is prohibited from receiving or possessing firearms under Federal law. A person may loan or rent a firearm to a resident of any State for temporary use for lawful sporting purposes, if he does not know or have reasonable cause to believe the person is prohibited from receiving or possessing firearms under Federal law. A person may sell or transfer a firearm to a licensee in any State. However, a firearm other than a curio or relic may not be transferred interstate to a licensed collector.”

In North Carolina, the combination of the state pistol permit law and federal rules governing private sales mean that residents may legally buy a rifle or a shotgun at a gun show or in another private venue from non-licensed dealer without a background check.

But regardless of the venue or license status of the seller, North Carolina residents must obtain a pistol purchase permit or concealed handgun permit before acquiring a handgun.

Is there any limit on how many guns you can own?

According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence “Federal law does not limit the number of guns a person can buy in any given time period.”

North Carolina law doesn’t restrict the number of guns a resident can purchase during a certain time period. However, according to the North Carolina Firearms Laws manual:

“State law sets no limit on the number of permits which can be obtained at any one given time. However, consistent with their authority to regulate the issuance of pistol permits, most sheriff departments will limit the number of permits that one applicant may receive. Typically, it is not uncommon for a sheriff’s department to limit an applicant to a maximum of five such permits in one year.”

That five-permit-per-year limit is a policy set by individual sheriff’s offices and is not a statewide standard. If someone lives in a county where such a policy is in place, the effect would be to limit them to five handgun purchases per year, but would not limit the number of long guns they could buy.

Are there certain types of ammunition that are illegal to own or that you need a permit for? Is there a limit to how much ammunition you can have?

In general, federal law restricts the sale of “armor piercing ammunition,” although there are exceptions to this prohibition. North Carolina state law prohibits the sale, manufacture and purchase of “teflon-coated bullets,” which are designed to defeat bullet proof vests. There is no state or federal limitation on the amount of ammunition that an individual can buy.

Where can I have a gun and where can’t I?

The North Carolina Firearms Laws manual goes into detail about where guns are prohibited. A general list includes:

Schools.
Any place alcoholic beverages are sold and consumed. (You are allowed to carry into a convenience store, but not a bar.)
State buildings.
Events occurring in public places such as a parade or funeral procession.
Events where “a fee has been charged for admission” such as a movie theater.
In March, a federal judge struck down North Carolina’s prohibition on carrying firearms during a state of emergency.

Local governments also have some power to regulate where and when gun owners can carry their weapons. There was a controversy over this power because of a 2011 law that expanded the areas where concealed handgun permit holders could bring their guns. As UNC School of Government Professor Jeff Welty explains on his law blog:

So generally, the statute says that municipalities can’t regulate concealed carry – only the state can do that. But the statute provides a limited exception, formerly encompassing municipal “buildings, their appurtenant premises, and parks,” but now limited to municipal “buildings, their appurtenant premises” and certain “recreational facilities.”

What is a concealed handgun permit? What does it allow me to do?

North Carolina allows for “open carry” of firearms. That means as long as a weapon is “readily accessible” to an owner without a concealed handgun permit, it must not be covered. It is legal, however, for someone without a special permit to wear a handgun in a holster as long as the gun is not covered by a jacket or something else. Definitions of what constitutes “concealed” are not always spelled out, which presents some legal questions for responsible gun owners. For example, “North Carolina law does not specifically address how to transport a weapon in an automobile,” according to the N.C. Firearms Laws manual. Generally speaking, if an owner is transporting a weapon, it either needs to be displayed in the open or locked away.

The exception to North Carolina’s open carry requirements – and similar requirements in other states – comes from state concealed handgun permit law. Under this law, citizens who receive special training, pass a background check and meet other requirements can carry concealed handguns. Roughly 290,000 North Carolina residents hold concealed handgun permits.

Generally, conceal handgun permit holders must abide by prohibitions on carrying firearms in areas where they are prohibited for others. The N.C. Department of Justice provides a chart of where permit holders are and are not allowed to carry. There are some differences. For example, cities and counties can ban non-permit holders from bringing guns into parks of all kinds. However, those with a concealed weapons permit may carry their guns on jogging trails and similar passive recreation areas.

Also, private property owners may post a “notice that carrying a concealed handgun is prohibited.”

There is no federal conceal handgun law or permit. North Carolina recognized concealed handgun permits issued by any other states. In order to obtain a concealed handgun permit in North Carolina, a resident must:

Complete an application, under oath, on a form provided by the sheriff’s office.
Pay a non-refundable fee of $80
Allow the sheriff’s office to take two full sets of fingerprints, which may cost up to $10
Provide and original certificate of completion of an approved handgun safety course
Provide a release authorizing disclosure to the sheriff of any record concerning the applicants mental health or capacity.
Applicants must be citizens of the United States, at least 21-years-old, have lived in North Carolina for at least 30 days, and meet other requirements.

Firearm by Felon Convictions Overturned

A federal judge in the Eastern District of North Carolina ruled on Friday that a man convicted of a federal firearm by felon charge should be released from prison. The ruling comes in the wake of U.S. v. Simmons, 649 F.3d 237 (2011), a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals case decided in August 2011 that held that federal prosecutors and judges had misinterpreted the definition of “felony” in both convicting and sentencing people accused of federal crimes.

The decision is a technical interpretation of what it means to be have a felony for federal criminal purposes. Until 2011, federal prosecutors and judges applied an interpretation that so long as a person was convicted in a state court of a crime for which someone could conceivably at least 12 months in prison, that person was a convicted felon for federal purposes.

But in August 2011 the Fourth Circuit sitting en banc changed what constitutes a felony conviction under North Carolina’s structured sentencing law. In Simmons, the Court of Appeals held that the federal courts should not look at the theoretical maximum sentence for a worst-case offender in order to determine whether a person was convicted of a felony, but must look at the maximum that that particular defendant could’ve received to see whether that would’ve exceeded 12 months.

The ruling affects people convicted of most Class I and some Class H felonies from the mid-1990s through 2011, and who were subsequently prosecuted under federal law for criminal offenses involving firearms, or who faced certain types of sentencing enhancements based on criminal past.

The ACLU believes that some 3,000 people are affected by the ruling.

The ruling is entirely retrospective, but will continue to affect people who past criminal histories. However, in 2011, following the ruling, the North Carolina General Assembly modified North Carolina’s structured sentencing chart to make anyone convicted of even the lowest Class I felony eligible for at least 12 months in prison.

That means, for federal purposes, anyone convicted of a Class I felony (and up) is a felon.

North Carolina Gun Rights

The crimes committed in Aurora, Colorado (and the accompanying tragedy for the thousands of family members and friends immediately affected) is calling attention to various gun ownership reforms. Let’s review some of the key North Carolina and federal criminal laws (see more here about the Federal Government’s Project Safe Neighborhoods) that affect gun ownership.

As always, if you have any questions about these issues, contact a Raleigh criminal lawyer.

The Purchase of a Long Gun in North Carolina

A long gun is a rifle or shotgun. Under both North Carolina and federal law, a person may purchase a long gun pursuant to an instantaneous background check. This check is run by the salesperson upon purchase of the gun. Among other things, your status as a U.S. citizen or Resident Alien is verified, your age and criminal record. Your asked questions about your mental competency as well.

The Purchase of a Handgun in North Carolina

In North Carolina, you must obtain a pistol purchase permit (a law dating back to 1919) in order to purchase a handgun. The purchase permit is granted by the Sheriff in the county in which you reside, and policies vary county by county. In Wake County, you can obtain up to five permits at one time (at $5/permit). Wake County Pistol Permits take seven to ten days to complete, after which you can pick up your permits and use each permit to purchase a handgun. You can purchase multiple handguns a single day, although federal authorities may be flagged if you purchase a number of handguns within a certain period of time.

You can bypass the pistol permit program altogether by first getting a concealed carry permit (See more here about concealed carry permits in Wake County), which allows you to show the concealed carry permit to a shopowner or gun seller.

The Possession of a Handgun or Long Gun

Assuming you may legally possess firearms (see below), you may possess as many handguns or long guns as you wish, and there is no requirement that you register these guns (with the exception that Durham County does have a registration requirement for handguns.)

The exception to this is that you may not possess certain kinds of specialized firearms, such as fully automatic weapons or suppressors or silencers. If you have any question about whether your weapon is legal, make sure you speak with a lawyer.

If you move or area traveling through North Carolina, you may possess your firearms as long as they are otherwise lawfully possessed or were lawfully purchased. In other words, you do not need to notify North Carolina authorities (except in Durham County concerning handguns) simply for moving or passing through North Carolina assuming the weapons are properly stored and properly carried. For instance, North Carolina does recognize concealed carry permits issued by other states, but you need to make sure you states’ permits are recognized in North Carolina. Again, consult a North Carolina lawyer about this issue if you have any doubts.

Illegal Possession of a Handgun or Long Gun

It is illegal for certain people to possess a handgun or long gun, including, but not limited to:

  • Convicted felon (who has not applied for a restoration of his gun rights under North Carolina law)
  • Undocumented or Illegal Aliens
  • Fugitives from Justice
  • Abuser of alcohol, or user of illegal controlled substances
  • People convicted of Domestic Violence offenses (See more here about DV laws and guns)
  • People discharged from military service under dishonorable conditions
  • Someone who has an active 50B that alleges violence or a domestic threat (See here about DVPO and 50B orders and guns)
  • Someone who has an active court order that bars gun possession
  • Someone who is on probation of any kind (See more about probation and firearms)

In addition, it is illegal to possess a firearm whose serial number has been altered or defaced, or a firearm that was stolen.

Class 3 Weapons and National Firearms Act Gun Trusts

It is illegal for someone to possess a fully automatic rifle without a Class 3 federal firearms license. In addition, someone who has a Class 3 license needs to follow specific rules and regulations regarding the transportation of these weapons even from someone’s home to a firing range. The rules can be onerous.

NFA Trusts are almost certainly an illegal “workaround”. I would not advise anyone to use such trusts to try to evade the National Firearms Act until either the ATFE (formerly the ATF) or a federal court of appeals rules in the issue.

Where You Can Take Your Firearm

North Carolina law, federal law, and local ordinances ban firearms from certain locations, including, federal buildings, parks, courthouses, schools, bars, restaurants, and other venues that serve alcohol, sporting events, and locations where the owner has posted a sign that says “no firearms permitted”. These rules vary by location, and it is the gun owner’s responsibility to where and how he can transport the weapon.

How You Can Legally Carry or Store Your Firearm

While it is legal to carry a holstered weapon while exposed in many locations, do not be surprised if by doing so you attract unwanted attention from law enforcement, and possible criminal charges. While you may or may not win the case, the hassle of carrying open may not be worth it.

It is also illegal to display or brandish a gun in a manner that either causes or can reasonably be expected to cause fear or panic. This crime is a misdemeanor in North Carolina called “Going Armed to the Terror of the People.”

It is illegal to point the gun, even if unloaded, at an individual, unless in self-defense. Doing so invites a charge of Assault by Pointing a Gun, a class A1 misdemeanor.

It is illegal to conceal a handgun without a proper permit. Concealment includes placing the gun somewhere in your car within reach (usually considered somewhere in the passenger compartment. Placing the gun under your driver seat, if you do not have a concealed carry permit, is illegal (and unsafe). And, if permitted, a person must indicate to law enforcement that he or she is a concealed carry permit holder and that he or she has a concealed gun.

It is illegal to store the weapon in a place or manner easily within reach of a child.

It is illegal to discharge a weapon within certain distances of dwelling places.

Summary of your Gun Rights

While North Carolina has a fairly open view of handguns and firearms, it is important that people take responsibility for their ownership rights by exercising those rights in a proper manner, which includes following the letter and spirit of the law.

Class 3 Weapons and National Firearms Act Gun Trusts

It is illegal for someone to possess a fully automatic rifle without a Class 3 federal firearms license. In addition, someone who has a Class 3 license needs to follow specific rules and regulations regarding the transportation of these weapons even from someone’s home to a firing range. The rules can be onerous.

In recent years, there has been some talk about the creation of NFA Trusts as a workaround to the National Firearms Act. These trusts, some argue, would allow people who are members of the trust to use or possess machine guns, Short Barreled Rifles (SBR), Short Barreled Shotguns (SBS), Any Other Weapons (AOW) or a Destructive Device (DD), or Any Other Weapons, including short barrel (sawed-off) shotguns.  Here’s what the Department of Justice has said previously about NFA Trusts as a work-around to the National Firearms Act.

The ATF has not issued any letters authorizing these Trusts. These Trust are almost certainly illegal, and not a good faith compliance with the National Firearms Act.

While various lawyers have been claiming success in establishing these trusts (google NFA Trust), ultimately it’s the client – the possessor or member of the trust – who will feel the full weight of the Federal Government when it decides to start prosecuting people for illegally possessing automatic or other Class 3 weapons.

At the very least, the person’s entire gun collection will be seized, including the legal weapons. The person will face multiple felony charges. And, if lucky, the person’s only expense will be a huge legal fee for a Raleigh federal lawyer to defend him. In addition, the defense – I though it was illegal – does not work, even if you genuinely did believe it legal. Mistake of law is not a defense.

Collateral Consequences of a Domestic Violence Conviction

Most people are aware that a felony conviction will result in a loss of the right to keep and bear arms. It is a felony in North Carolina for a convicted felon to possess a firearm. It is also a felony under federal law with a possible sentence of up to 10 years for a felon to possess a firearm.

Unless your gun rights have been restored, a felony conviction means you can never possess a firearm or ammunition again in your life.

The same rule applies for certain kinds of Domestic Violence-related crimes, even if they are merely misdemeanors. The Lautenberg Amendment to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), also known as the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban makes it a federal offense for someone convicted of a Domestic Violence crime to possess firearms or ammunition.

Not all Domestic Violence offenses automatically mean that the convicted person’s gun rights are lost. 18 USC 921 specifies that in order for the offense to bar gun ownership, the offense must have:

as an element, the use or attempted use of physical force, or the threatened use of a deadly weapon, committed by a current or former spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim, by a person with whom the victim shares a child in common, by a person who is cohabiting with or has cohabited with the victim as a spouse, parent, or guardian, or by a person similarly situated to a spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim.

For instance, assaults on a female surely mean that a person convicted of an AOF in North Carolina in a domestic violence scenario will lose his or her gun rights. But other DV crimes, including interfering with emergency communications, injury to personal property, and so forth may not actually result in a loss of gun rights.

People charged with DV cases must be aware of not only the immediate consequences of a conviction, but also the potential collateral consequences as described above.

Concealed Carry Permits in North Carolina

People eligible to carry handguns concealed can apply for permits in North Carolina. The details on how to apply for a concealed carry permit in Wake County are available here.

In North Carolina, the fact that you’re a concealed carry permit holder is a public record. More than 240,000 North Carolinians have applied for and been awarded concealed carry permits.

Unfortunately, North Carolina’s permit system is not perfect. The New York Times reports that approximately 2,400 (or about 1 percent) of the total number of permit holders had been convicted of a misdemeanor or a felony and yet had still received a permit. 200 of those 2,400 were prior convicted felons.

Felons in possession of firearms can be tried in both state and federal courts under the federal government’s Safe Nieghborhoods program. In state courts, a felon in possession of a gun can be tried as a Class G felon and receive up to three years (depending on his prior record level) for the mere fact that he was found in possession of a handgun.

In federal court, a person may be convicted and receive up to 10 years in prison if he is a felon who is found in possession of a gun. In addition, increasingly, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina has been prosecuting individuals who, after serving time in state prison for possessing a firearm, are released from custody.

This double prosecution – first in state court and then in federal court – does not violate the Constitution’s Double Jeopardy clause because different sovereigns can prosecute the same crime.

Federal gun charges, Project Safe Neighborhoods

If you’re convicted of a felon in possession of a firearm crime in North Carolina’s state court at most you could face five or six years in prison, depending on the charge. The more serious the charge, the longer the time.

These charges include felon in possession of a firearm, possession of a stolen firearm (14-71.1), or possession, sale or buy a firearm with an altered serial number (14-160.2(B)).

Possession, buying, or selling a firearm with an altered serial number is a class H felony. Possession of a stolen firearm is a class H felony. Possession of a firearm by a felony is a class G felony.

At most, a person would face about 3 years in prison for a Class G felony. A class H felony would be about 2 1/2 years in prison.

In most cases, the person, if a plea is entered, will receive a lower sentence.

That said, pleading guilty to a gun charge is a risky move. That’s because the Federal Government can prosecute people separately in federal court even though they’ve been found guilty in state court. These duplicate prosecutions do not violate any Double Jeopardy rule, since the federal government is a different sovereign from the state government.

The federal government’s Project Safe Neighborhoods is a joint federal-state initiative whereby federal prosecutors seek out prosecutions of these typically state offenses that involve firearm offenses.

For a number of years, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina did not undertake many prosecutions of people on firearms charges. However, the number of prosecutions have started to increase, and so any gun conviction in the state’s court could open the defendant up to later prosecution under the federal law.

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