Gun laws in North Carolina

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Location of North Carolina in the United States

Gun laws in North Carolina regulate the sale, possession, and use of firearms and ammunition in the U.S. state of North Carolina (NC).[1][2]

North Carolina is generally considered a permissive state for firearms owners, with no state-imposed restrictions on "assault weapons", no magazine capacity restrictions, no caliber restrictions, and few restrictions on the open carrying of firearms. North Carolina maintains concealed carry reciprocity with all other states.[3]

Summary table[edit]

Subject/Law Long Guns Handguns Relevant Statutes Notes
State permit required to purchase? No Yes For handguns, a Pistol Purchase Permit (issued by the sheriff in the county of one's residence) or a North Carolina issued Concealed Handgun Permit is required. Presenting either of these exempts the buyer from the on-the-spot NICS background check.
Firearm registration? No No Durham County formerly required registration of handguns. This was repealed on June 18, 2014. State law now makes it unlawful for any government entity within the state to maintain a firearms registry.
Owner license required? No No
Permit required for concealed carry? N/A Yes North Carolina is a "shall issue" state for Concealed Handgun Permits. An individual must inform a Law Enforcement officer when addressed he/she is carrying a concealed handgun n. (Gen Stat. § 14-415.12A) [4]
Permit required for open carry? No No Open carry is not specifically limited by state law, but some local governments may have ordinances against openly carried weapons. See state pre-emption section below
State preemption of local restrictions? Yes Yes North Carolina has state preemption for most firearm laws.[5]
Assault weapon law? No No
NFA weapons restricted? No No All NFA weapons (Title II weapons) and silencers/suppressors are allowed, as long as federal rules are followed
Shall Certify? Yes Yes Section 13 (§ 14-409.41) Shall certify within 15 days.
Background checks required for private sales? No Yes Article 52A, § 14-402 A person acquiring a handgun must have either a permit to purchase a handgun or a concealed handgun permit. A background check is required to obtain either of these permits.

NC Pistol Purchase Permit law[edit]

Currently, in order to buy a handgun, whether from a licensed dealer or a private individual, North Carolinians are required to either A) obtain and present a pistol purchase permit from the sheriff of the county in which they reside, or B) obtain and present a North Carolina Concealed Handgun Permit. Before issuing a purchase permit, the sheriff's office will subject the applicant to a background check. Concealed Handgun Permits require satisfactory completion of an 8-hour handgun safety course, background check, and completion of the CHP application process.

Federal Gun Control Act of 1968[edit]

The Gun Control Act of 1968 was part of President Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society series of programs. 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[edit]

North Carolina is a common law state.[6] Appearing in a public place, armed with a firearm, may be an affray at common law depending on the circumstances.[7] In State v. Robert S. Huntley (1843), 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'[8]

Because of State v. Huntley, and other court rulings,[7] caution is urged as to the areas a person frequents with firearms.[9]

NC Gun Laws[edit]

§ 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: an athletic field, a swimming pool, and an athletic facility.[10]

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.[10] 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.[10]

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.[10] 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.[10] 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.[10] 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.[10]

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.[10]

There are some areas in North Carolina where guns are prohibited. It is a Class 1 Misdemeanor for any person to knowingly carry concealed on or about his person on any private premises where notice that carrying a concealed handgun is prohibited by the posting of a conspicuous notice or statement by the person in legal possession or control of the premises.[11] It is also a Class 1 Misdemeanor if a person with or without a permit, for a person to carry concealed a handgun while consuming or having alcohol remain in the person's body. Carrying any dangerous weapon by a person participating in, affiliated with, or present as a spectator at any parade, funeral procession, picket line, or demonstration on public property or private health care facility is also a Class 1 misdemeanor.[12] Furthermore, it is a Class I Felony for any person knowingly to possess or carry, whether openly or concealed, any gun, rifle, pistol, or other firearm of any kind on educational property or to a curricular or extracurricular activity sponsored by a school.[13] It is also unlawful for any person to possess, or carry, whether openly or concealed, any deadly weapon, not used solely for instructional or officially sanctioned ceremonial purposes in the State Capitol Building, the Executive Mansion, the Western Residence of the Governor, or on the grounds of any of these buildings, and in any building housing any court of the General Court of Justice.[14]

It is a non-criminal violation of the law (infraction) for an individual to fail to disclose to a law enforcement officer that he has a concealed handgun on/about his person or to provide the concealed handgun permit when required.[15]

Guns were previously banned from school grounds; however, they are now allowed if the school ground in question is a public school, as long as the owner is in possession of a concealed weapons permit, and the gun is inside a locked compartment, which is in turn inside a locked car. Private schools may permit or ban guns on their campuses as they wish.[16] 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.[10] A concealed handgun permit does not allow a permittee to carry a gun on any school ground.[10] Guns are not allowed into State buildings unless they are being used for instructional or officially sanctioned ceremonial purposes. It is also unlawful for a person to arm himself or herself with a gun for the purpose of terrifying others[note 1] and go about so on public highways in a manner to cause terror.[10]

Recent changes to North Carolina law removed the prohibition on legal gun owners from carrying lawfully possessed firearms during a declared State of Emergency via the Emergency Management Act.[10]

5. Areas of Emergency and Riots

Pursuant to North Carolina's Emergency Management Act (Chapter 166A of the General Statutes) local governments may impose restrictions on dangerous weapons such as explosives, incendiary devices, and radioactive materials and devices when a state of emergency is declared but may not impose restrictions on lawfully possessed firearms.

Concealed carry case law[edit]

Various case law has been ruled on in NC clarifying the interpretation of concealed carry law. North Carolina vs McManus (1883)[17] stated a weapon concealed on or "about his person" was still in violation of the law. It was held that a weapon concealed within immediate reach and control of a defendant, is a considered a concealed weapon for the purpose of the law.

In State v. Gainey (1968),[18] the appeals court found that a firearm concealed within the passenger compartment of a vehicle is not necessarily immediately available if the circumstances dictate

North Carolina vs Soles (2008)[19] held that a firearm concealed inside a backpack could not be deemed as such because the state did not present enough evidence to show this and a conviction is made beyond all reasonable doubt, not on an assumption.

Fully automatic rifles and machine guns[edit]

NFA weapons such as registered fully automatic firearms, short-barreled shotguns, and suppressors are legal to own by private citizens in North Carolina so long as ATF regulations are followed.[20]

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 seven 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. G. A person who lawfully possesses or owns a weapon in compliance with 26 U.S.C.Chapter 53,§ §5801-5871

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

Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act of 2004[edit]

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.[10]

Acquiring a handgun[edit]

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).[21] State law requires the applicant to appear in person with government ID, pay a $8 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).[22][23][24][25][26] 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.[27]

In accordance to North Carolina Law, no county or local government can require handgun registration.[27]

Shall-issue state[edit]

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 allowances for emergency medical services, fire and 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.[28] 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)).

CHP reciprocity with other states[edit]

Effective December 1, 2011, North Carolina automatically recognizes concealed carry permits issued in any other state.[29]

§ 14-415.24. Reciprocity; out-of-state handgun permits
(a) A valid concealed handgun permit or license issued by another state is valid in North Carolina.[30] The statute previously gave reciprocity only when the state the permit was from also gave reciprocity, but this requirement has since been removed.

Local government restrictions limited by state[edit]

In 2015, the state legislature set out to make the local gun laws in North Carolina more uniform across the board. They acknowledged the need for local governments prohibit firearms in local government buildings, but they also restricted a local government's ability to prohibit on "municipal and county recreational facilities that are specifically identified by the unit of local government".[5]

The bill states that no political subdivision, boards or agencies of the State or any city, county, municipality, etc may enact rules, ordinances or regulations concerning the legal carry of a concealed handgun.[31] The bill does, however, state "that a unit of local government may adopt an ordinance to permit the posting of a prohibition against the concealed carry of a handgun in accordance with NCGS § 14-415.11(c)" (places where concealed carry is prohibited and exemptions).

It also states that "A unit of local government may also 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 lawfully secure the handgun in a locked vehicle within the trunk, glove box," etc.[32]

NCGS § 14-415.23 Statewide uniformity identifies 'recreational facilities' specifically as:[32]

(c) For purposes of this section, the term "recreational facilities" includes only the following:

  • (1) An athletic field, including any appurtenant facilities such as restrooms, during an organized athletic event if the field had been scheduled for use with the municipality or county office responsible for operation of the park or recreational area.
  • (2) A swimming pool, including any appurtenant facilities used for dressing, storage of personal items, or other uses relating to the swimming pool.
  • (3) A facility used for athletic events, including, but not limited to, a gymnasium.

(d) For the purposes of this section, the term "recreational facilities" does not include any greenway, designated biking or walking path, an area that is customarily used as a walkway or bike path although not specifically designated for such use, open areas or fields where athletic events may occur unless the area qualifies as an "athletic field" pursuant to subdivision (1) of subsection (c) of this section, and any other area that is not specifically described in subsection (c) of this section.

Despite this legislation being in place, many buildings still maintain 'gun free zone' signs on the entrances to the property, thus rendering them merely voluntary. Examples of this still being commonplace are Crabtree Creek Trail or buildings within Pullen Park, Raleigh. Some local governments have begun to amend their local ordinances to comply with state law.[33]

Open carry[edit]

Open carry is also legal throughout North Carolina.[34] In the town 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. In the court case of State v. Kerner (1921) the defendant ended up getting into some type of confrontation with another man. The defendant proceeded to walk back to his place of work, get his gun, and then return to the scene to fight. The defendant ended up being charged with "carrying a concealed weapon" and "carrying his pistol off his premises unconcealed,"[35] which violated a local act applicable to Forsyth County and ended up being a misdemeanor. The defendant was taken to trial and the trial judge then dismissed the charge as unconstitutional. The state then appealed, and the supreme court affirmed. During court, the court stated at the beginning that the Second Amendment did not apply, because "the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution are restrictions on the federal authority and not the states." Therefore, with that being said, it focused more on the state constitution. The state constitution states that: "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed." The court viewed the provision as protecting the right to carry arms in public. Although, the case of State v. Kerner helped/made more clear the allowance of openly carrying a pistol, it does not preclude all regulations regarding the carrying of firearms.[36]

See also[edit]


^[note 1]  The offense is known as "Going Armed To The Terror Of The People".[37]


  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. ^
  4. ^ "North Carolina Firearms Laws", North Carolina Department of Justice, December 2015. Retrieved April 18, 2016.
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  6. ^ "North Carolina General Statute § 4‑1. Common law declared to be in force". Retrieved November 23, 2011.
  7. ^ a b David Shephard Garland; James Cockcroft; Lucius Polk McGehee; Charles Porterfield (1896). The American and English Encyclopedia of Law. Edward Thompson Company. p. 915.
  8. ^ "State V. Robert S. Huntley". Retrieved November 23, 2011.
  9. ^ "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.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m North Carolina Department of Justice (December 2011). "North Carolina Firearms Laws" (PDF).
  11. ^
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  15. ^
  16. ^ Cooper, Roy; Aldridge, John, III (September 2014). NORTH CAROLINA FIREARMS LAWS. North Carolina Department of Justice: Law Enforcement Liaison SECTION. p. 19. Retrieved October 4, 2014.
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^ "Machine Guns & Automatic Firearms in North Carolina", Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, January 1, 2012. Retrieved June 21, 2013.
  21. ^ "North Carolina Firearms Laws", North Carolina Department of Justice
  22. ^ Gaston County Sheriff's Office – Gun Permit Application Procedures Archived May 7, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^ Wake County Sheriff's Office – Obtaining Handgun Permits in Wake County Archived 2011-09-27 at the Wayback Machine
  24. ^ "Office of the Orange County Sheriff – Orange County Pistol Permit Application Information" (PDF). Retrieved November 23, 2011.
  25. ^ Ian Worthington (November 23, 2010). "Durham County Government – Pistol Permit Instructions and Application Package". Retrieved November 23, 2011.
  26. ^ Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office – Gun Permits
  27. ^ a b "North Carolina Rifle & Pistol Association – North Carolina Gun Ownership FAQs". Retrieved November 23, 2011.
  28. ^ "GS_14-288.7". Retrieved November 23, 2011.
  29. ^ North Carolina Department of Justice (April 2012). "Concealed Weapons Reciprocity".
  30. ^
  31. ^ This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  32. ^ a b
  33. ^ mtairynews (2019-04-04). "County repeals gun restrictions". Mt. Airy News. Retrieved 2019-04-08.
  34. ^ "State Information For North Carolina". Retrieved September 22, 2016.
  35. ^
  36. ^ "State v. Kerner". Retrieved October 29, 2013.
  37. ^ "North Carolina Firearms Laws" (revised February 2014), North Carolina Department of Justice, Retrieved 2014-05-12, "Going Armed To The Terror Of The People: By common law in North Carolina, it is unlawful for a person to arm himself/herself with any unusual and dangerous weapon, for the purpose of terrifying others, and go about on public highways in a manner to cause terror to others. The N.C. Supreme Court states that any gun is an unusual and dangerous weapon for purposes of this offense. Therefore, persons are cautioned as to the areas they frequent with firearms."