Gun laws in North Carolina

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Gun laws in North Carolina regulate the sale, possession, and use of firearms and ammunition in the state of North Carolina in the United States.[1][2]


Summary table

Subject/LawLong GunsHandgunsRelevant StatutesNotes
Permit to purchase required?NoYesFor handguns, a permit to purchase or a concealed handgun permit is required.
Firearm registration?NoNoThe county sheriff must keep a record of handgun purchase permits.
Owner license required?NoNo
Carry permits issued?NoYesNorth Carolina is a "shall issue" state for concealed carry.
Open carry permitted?NoYesOpen carry is generally permitted, but may be limited by local governments.
State preemption of local restrictions?YesYesNorth Carolina has state preemption for most but not all firearm laws.
"Assault weapon" law?NoNo
NFA weapons restricted?YesYesA permit to possess an NFA-compliant automatic firearm may be issued at the discretion of the county sheriff.

NC Pistol Purchase Permit law

The Pistol Purchase permit law was passed in 1919. This law is considered, by most, a classic piece of the Jim Crow laws. Due to the recognition of civil rights for blacks and other minorities, they could exercise their natural right to self-defense with full support of the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution and Article I, Section 30, of the North Carolina Constitution. North Carolina passed the Pistol Purchase Permit law which allowed local sheriffs and government officials to discriminate with impunity at the local level.[3]

Federal Gun Control Act of 1968

The Gun Control Act of 1968 was part of President Johnson's Great Society series of programs and was said by many to be spurred into passage by the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Malcom X. It addresses who may not buy or possess guns. It lists felons, illegal aliens, and other codified persons as prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms. During the application process for concealed carry, states are supposed to carry out thorough background checks to prevent these individuals from obtaining permits. Additionally, the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act created an FBI maintained system in 1994 for instantly checking the backgrounds of potential firearms buyers in an effort to prevent these individuals from obtaining weapons.

Common Law State

North Carolina is a Common Law State.[4] Appearing in a public place, armed with a firearm, may be an affray at common law depending on the circumstances.[5] In State v. Robert S. Huntley, it was ruled, in part:

It has been remarked that a double-barrel gun, or any other gun, cannot in this country come under the description of "unusual weapons," for there is scarcely a man in the community who does not own and occasionally use a gun of some sort. But we do not feel the force of this criticism. A gun is an "unusual weapon," wherewith to be armed and clad. No man amongst us carries it about with him, as one of his every day accoutrements—as a part of his dress—and never, we trust, will the day come when any deadly weapon will be worn or wielded in our peace-loving and law-abiding State, as an appendage of manly equipment. But although a gun is an "unusual weapon," it is to be remembered that the carrying of a gun, per se, constitutes no (sic) offence. For any lawful purpose—either of business or amusement—the citizen is at perfect liberty to carry his gun. It is the wicked purpose, and the mischievous result, which essentially constitute the crime. He shall not carry about this or any other weapon of death to terrify and alarm, and in such manner as naturally will terrify and alarm a peaceful people.[6]

Because of State v. Huntley, and other court rulings,[5] caution is urged as to the areas a person frequents with firearms.[7]

NC Gun Laws

§ 14-415.23. Statewide Uniformity reads as follows: "It is the intent of the General Assembly to prescribe a uniform system for the regulation of legally carrying a concealed handgun. To insure uniformity, no political subdivisions, boards, or agencies of the State nor any county, city, municipality, municipal corporation, town, township, village, nor any department or agency thereof, may enact ordinances, rules, or regulations concerning legally carrying a concealed handgun. A unit of local government may adopt an ordinance to permit the posting of a prohibition against carrying a concealed handgun, on local government buildings and their appurtenant premises. A unit of local government may adopt an ordinance to prohibit, by posting, the carrying of a concealed handgun on municipal and county recreational facilities that are specifically identified by the unit of local government. If a unit of local government adopts such an ordinance with regard to recreational facilities, then the concealed handgun permittee may, nevertheless, secure the handgun in a locked vehicle within the trunk, glove box, or other enclosed compartment or area within or on the motor vehicle." Recreational facilities includes only the following: a playground, an athletic field, a swimming pool, and an athletic facility.[8]

In North Carolina, 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 purchaser or receiver has first obtained a license or permit to receive such a pistol by the sheriff of the county where the purchaser or receiver resides, or the purchaser or receiver possesses a valid North Carolina issued concealed carry permit.[8] 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.[8]

Under N.C.G.S. 14-402, a county sheriff is only authorized to issue a permit to receive or purchase a handgun when an application is submitted by a person who is a resident of his or her particular county.[8] The sole exception is that the sheriff may issue a permit to a non-resident when the purpose of the permit is collecting. Before issuing a permit, the sheriff must fully satisfy himself/herself by affidavits, oral evidence, or otherwise, that the applicant is of good moral character and that the person, firm, or corporation wants to possess the weapon for one of the following purposes: The protection of the applicant's home, business, person, family, or property; target shooting; collection;or hunting.[8] The sheriff must also verify by a criminal history background investigation that it is not a violation of the state or federal law for the applicant to purchase, transfer, receive, or possess a handgun.[8] In order to determine criminal history of the applicant, the sheriff must access the computerized criminal history records maintained by the State and Federal Bureaus of Investigation, by conducting a national criminal history records check, and by conducting a criminal history check through the Administrative Office of the Courts.[8]

North Carolina State law further states that a permit may not be issued to the following persons: An applicant who is under indictment, or has been convicted in any state, of a felony (other than an offense pertaining to anti-trust violations, unfair trade practices, or restraints of trade). However, a person who has been convicted of a felony and is later pardoned may obtain a permit, if the purchase or receipt of the pistol does not violate the conditions of the pardon. Others that may not be issued a permit are fugitives from justice; the applicant is an unlawful user of or addicted to marijuana,any depressant, stimulant, or narcotic drug; the applicant has been adjudicated incompetent or has been committed to any mental institution; the applicant is an alien illegally or unlawfully in the United States; the applicant has been discharged from the U.S. armed forces under dishonorable conditions; the applicant, having been a citizen of the United States, has renounced their citizenship; the applicant is subject to a court order that: 1. was issued after a hearing of which the applicant received actual notice, and at which the applicant has an opportunity to participate; 2. restrains the person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner of the person or child of the intimate partner of the person, or engaging in other conduct that would place an intimate partner in reasonable fear of bodily injury to the partner or child; and includes a finding that the person represents a credible threat to the physical safety of the intimate partner or child; or by its terms explicitly prohibits the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the intimate partner or child that would reasonable be expected to cause bodily injury.[8]

There are some areas in North Carolina where guns are prohibited. It is a Class I Felony for any person to knowingly possess or carry, whether openly or concealed, any gun, rifle, or pistol on educational property or to an extracurricular activity sponsored by a school. However, it is a misdemeanor, rather than a Class I Felony, for any person to possess or carry, whether openly or concealed, any gun, rifle pistol, or other firearm of any kind, on educational property or to an extra curricular activity sponsored by a school if the person is not a student attending schools on the educational property, or an employee employed by the school working on the educational property; and the person is not a student attending a curricular or extracurricular activity sponsored by the school at which the student is enrolled, or an employee attending a curricular or extracurricular activity sponsored by the school at which the employee is working; and the firearm is not loaded, is in a motor vehicle and is locked in a container or a locked firearm rack.[8] A concealed handgun permit does not allow a permittee to carry a gun on any school ground.[8] In North Carolina, guns are also prohibited into any assembly where a fee has been charged for admission or into any establishment where alcoholic beverages are both sold and consumed.[8] Guns are not allowed into State buildings unless they are being used for instructional or officially sanctioned ceremonial purposes. North Carolina further makes it unlawful to carry a gun for any person participating in, or present as a spectator, any parade, funeral procession, picket line, or demonstration being held at any public place owned or under the control of the State of North Carolina.[8] North Carolina law also states that it is a misdemeanor for a person to transport or possess a gun in an area during a declared state of emergency. It is also unlawful for a person to arm himself or herself with a gun for the purpose of terrifying others and go about so on public highways in a manner to cause terror.[8]

Assault Rifles and Machine Guns

According to the North Carolina Attorney General's interpretation of State law, it is illegal for a private citizen to own a machine gun in North Carolina. The "real" assault rifles are select-fire rifles and are only available to military and law enforcement. By law they are considered machine guns and therefore are illegal for private citizens to own in North Carolina. The non-select-fire cosmetic look-alikes, that some people incorrectly call "assault weapons" are no different than any other non-select-fire gun and thus are legal.[3]

NFA items such as registered fully automatic weapons, suppressors, etc. are legal to own by private citizens in North Carolina so long as ATF regulations are followed.

ATF requires the transfer of fully automatic weapons to be in compliance with State and Local laws. North Carolina General Statute 14-409 Machine Guns and Other Like Weapons, first established in 1933, ( states "It shall be unlawful for any person, firm or corporation to manufacture, sell, give away, dispose of, use or possess machine guns, submachine guns, or other like weapons ...". The statute goes further to outline six specific exceptions allowing for the lawful possession of Machine Guns in the state of North Carolina: A. Banks, merchants, and recognized business establishments for use in their respective places of business,who shall first apply to and receive from the sheriff of the county in which said business is located, a permit to possess the said weapons for the purpose of defending the said business; B. United States Army, when in discharge of their official duties; C. Officers and soldiers of the militia when called into actual service; D. Officers of the State, or of any county, city or town ….when acting in the discharge of their official duties; E. The manufacture, use or possession of such weapons for scientific or experimental purposes; F. Resident of this State who now owns a machine gun used in former wars, as a relic or souvenir may retain and keep same as his or her property.

Any other possession or use of fully automatic weapons in North Carolina is unlawful.

Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act of 2004

The Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act of 2004 is a federal law that allows out-of-state sworn law enforcement officers to carry concealed handguns in all states. These out-of-state law enforcement officers may carry in certain areas of North Carolina as long as they are a qualified officer of a governmental agency. They must also be authorized by law to enforce criminal laws with the statutory powers of arrest and be authorized to carry firearms with their agency. The officer must carry valid photo identification as an officer. In North Carolina, the out-of-state officer may not carry in either public or private areas where the possession of firearms is prohibited. Certain qualified retired officers may also be eligible to carry concealed handguns in North Carolina.[8]

Acquiring a handgun

To acquire a handgun in North Carolina (including private sales, gifts, and inheritance) an individual must go to the county sheriff's office in the county in which they reside and obtain a pistol purchase permit. This is not required if one has a CHP (Concealed Handgun Permit) permit.[9] State law requires the applicant to appear in person with government ID, pay a $5 fee, undergo a background check similar in scope and scrutiny to NICS, and have a reason for owning a pistol (hunting, target shooting, self defense, or collecting). Because there are 100 different counties in North Carolina, there are different sets of rules and requirements for obtaining such a permit, which can be determined arbitrarily by the local sheriff. Some sheriffs impose other restrictions such as a limit on the number of permits applied for at a time, waiting periods, and/or proof of good moral character (a witness or references, in some cases notarized with affidavits).[10][11][12][13][14] The Pistol Purchase requirements are a holdover from Jim Crow laws that were designed to prevent African-Americans and other minorities from easily obtaining handguns.[15]

Durham County requires the registration of handguns. In accordance to North Carolina Law, no other county or local government may require handgun registration.[15]

Shall-Issue state

North Carolina is a "shall issue" state for the concealed carry of handguns. Application for a concealed handgun permit is made through the local county sheriff's office. Applicants must complete a state approved training course given by a state certified trainer. Instructors for these classes must be certified by the North Carolina Department of Justice. The Concealed Carry Handgun Safety Class is regulated to be a minimum of eight (8) hours long and must include a written test on state laws pertaining to the use of deadly force, and restrictions on the locations a handgun may be carried in a concealed fashion. In addition, the applicant must shoot a designated course of fire and obtain a passing score. A concealed handgun permit is valid for a period of five years. Regardless of the possession of a CHP, there are places that are restricted from the carrying of a concealed handgun, or any other firearm. Some restrictions have loop holes for EMS, Fire & Police.[1] Firearms may not be transported or possessed off of one's own premises during a declared state of emergency or in the immediate vicinity of a riot, except for law enforcement and military personnel in the performance of their duties.[16] On March 29, 2012, the provision barring the carry and possession of a firearm during a declared state of emergency was declared unconstitutional by a US Federal Court (No. 5:10-CV-265-H (E.D.N.C. filed Mar. 29, 2012)).

Effective December 1, 2011, North Carolina automatically recognizes concealed carry permits issued in any other state.[17]

Open carry

Open Carry is also legal throughout North Carolina.[18] In the city of Chapel Hill, open carry is restricted to guns of a certain minimum size, under the theory that small, concealable handguns are more often associated with criminal activity. No permit is required to carry a handgun openly in North Carolina.


  1. ^ a b "State Gun Laws: North Carolina", National Rifle Association – Institute for Legislative Action. Retrieved December 31, 2012.
  2. ^ "North Carolina State Law Summary", Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Retrieved December 31, 2012.
  3. ^ a b "North Carolina Gun Ownership FAQs". March 2010.
  4. ^ "North Carolina General Statute § 4‑1. Common law declared to be in force". Retrieved November 23, 2011.
  5. ^ a b Editors: David Shephard Garland, James Cockcroft, Lucius Polk McGehee, Charles Porterfield, The American and English Encyclopedia of Law, Volume 1, p. 915 – Affray. Google Books. June 13, 2010. Retrieved November 23, 2011.
  6. ^ "State V. Robert S. Huntley". Retrieved November 23, 2011.
  7. ^ "Cooper (A.G.), Aldridge (D.A.G.), North Carolina Firearms Laws, p. 23 – Going Armed To The Terror Of The People" (PDF). Retrieved November 23, 2011.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n North Carolina Department of Justice (December, 2011). "North Carolina Firearms Laws".
  9. ^ "North Carolina Firearms Laws", North Carolina Department of Justice[dead link]
  10. ^ Gaston County Sheriff's Office – Gun Permit Application Procedures[dead link]
  11. ^ Wake County Sheriff's Office – Obtaining Handgun Permits in Wake County
  12. ^ "Office of the Orange County Sheriff – Orange County Pistol Permit Application Information" (PDF). Retrieved November 23, 2011.
  13. ^ Ian Worthington (November 23, 2010). "Durham County Government – Pistol Permit Instructions and Application Package". Retrieved November 23, 2011.
  14. ^ Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office – Gun Permits[dead link]
  15. ^ a b "North Carolina Rifle & Pistol Association – North Carolina Gun Ownership FAQs". Retrieved November 23, 2011.
  16. ^ "GS_14-288.7". Retrieved November 23, 2011.
  17. ^ North Carolina Department of Justice (April, 2012). "Concealed Weapons Reciprocity".
  18. ^ "State Information For North Carolina". Retrieved November 23, 2011.