North Carolina Gun Ownership FAQs
For Questions about Concealed Carry in North Carolina, see our Concealed Carry FAQ page.
Q: I have just moved to NC from another State. Do I have to register my guns with the Sheriff or the NC State Government?
A: There is no NC state law that requires you to register your firearms, or notify any public official. One county in NC requires its residents to register handguns – Durham County. This power was granted to Durham County by the State Legislature. No other counties or localities are permitted to require registration.
With the sole exception of Durham County, if you are a law-abiding citizen who lives in North Carolina you are entitled to possess the firearms you currently own without any hassle or red tape. Some county sheriffs, inundated with inquiries from people who move to NC from more restrictive areas where registration or ownership permits are required by law, have instituted voluntary notification procedures. In other words, if you have a burning desire to tell a public official about your private possessions, in some counties they will take your information and store it in a computer database. NCRPA recommends that you refrain from doing this – it’s none of their business.
Q: I have just moved to NC from another State, and I brought my gun(s) with me. Do I need to get an ownership permit?
A: No permit or other legal document is necessary to legally possess a rifle, shotgun or handgun in North Carolina as long as the firearm is not capable of fully automatic fire. In other words, as long as the firearm is not capable of machine-gun-type fire (multiple bullets fired each time you pull the trigger = machine gun, vs. one bullet fired each time you pull the trigger = non-machine gun), it is legal in NC if you are not a convicted felon. If you ARE a convicted felon, per Federal law you may not possess a firearm of any kind. If any of the firearms are capable of fully automatic fire, it is illegal to own and penalties are severe.
Q: Is it legal for a private citizen to own a machine gun in North Carolina?
A: Per the North Carolina Attorney General’s interpretation of relevant State law, the answer is clearly and unequivocally NO.
This position covered individual private citizens. Apparently it did not apply to businesses and trusts where NFA (National Firearms Act of 1934) weapons are controlled by Federal law and regulation covering permits obtained and taxes paid. The AG’s position is also open to reinterpretation by subsequent AGs and their staffs.
Q: What are the relevant laws regarding Assault Rifles in North Carolina?
A: Assault rifles (the real ones) are select-fire battle rifles available only to military and law enforcement. “Select-fire” means that they can be switched between semi-automatic mode (one shot per trigger pull) and full-automatic (machine gun) or “burst” mode (multiple shots per trigger pull). They are considered to be machine guns by law and are thus illegal for private citizens to own in NC except as regulated by Federal law since 1934.
Is that the type of rifle to which you are referring? Or do you mean the non-select-fire cosmetic look-alikes, the so-called “assault weapons?” If so, we were fortunate enough to be able to make the NC legislature understand that so-called “assault weapons” are no different from any other non-select-fire gun, except in appearance. Because of their understanding, there are no state-specific laws governing “assault weapons.” There are Federal laws, of course, and there are some local ordinances in Durham and Chapel Hill. The local ordinances were invalidated by a state-wide preemption law, but Durham and Chapel Hill still keep their ordinances on the books to “make a statement.”
Q: Isn’t a semi-automatic gun a machine gun? I heard someone on TV call a semi-automatic gun a “spray-fire” gun. That sounds like a machine gun.
A: “Semi-automatic” means the gun uses the energy of a fired cartridge to load the next cartridge. A better term for semi-automatic is “autoloader” or self-loader.” An autoloader will fire only one bullet each time the trigger is pulled. When the bullet is fired the mechanism will then automatically load the next cartridge, but will not fire it until the trigger is pulled again. A machine gun (full-automatic) also automatically loads the next cartridge when one is fired; the difference is that a machine gun will continue to automatically fire bullets as long as the trigger is held in a pulled position.
“Spray-fire” is not a technical term. It is a made-up phrase created by anti-gun organizations to frighten people who are ignorant of how guns work. The anti-gun organizations use this made up term to refer to semi-automatic firearms. It conjures up the image of a machine gun, which makes it easier for the anti-gun organizations to gain support for bans and restrictions on semi-automatic firearms.
Q: What are the rules regarding transportation of firearms in a motor vehicle?
A: Basic transportation requirements are:
Rifles & Shotguns: transport unloaded. Locked in trunk, or locked in gun rack, or locked in a carrying case if you don’t have a trunk. The best place for them is locked in the trunk or in a locked carrying case.
Handguns: if you have a concealed handgun license, you can transport concealed. Otherwise, it is permissible to transport loaded in plain view (such as on the seat with nothing covering it), as long as you aren’t in an area where possession or display is banned (and there are a LOT of those). If you don’t want to deal with hassles or be caught inadvertently transporting in a prohibited area, unloaded and locked in the trunk is the safest.
Q: I want to buy a handgun from a friend. Do I need to get any sort of permit to buy it?
A: Yes. All handgun transfers in North Carolina, whether through a dealer or via private sale, or presented as a gift, require that the intended recipient of the handgun obtain a Pistol Purchase Permit from his/her local Sheriff. You must go to your Sheriff, apply for a Pistol Purchase Permit (one per handgun you wish to purchase), and pay a $5 fee. When you take possession of the handgun you must present the Permit to the seller, who is required to retain it forever. If a Pistol Purchase Permit is not presented, both the buyer and the seller can be convicted of a Class I Misdemeanor.
As of 8/10/04 a new law was enacted, which permits someone with a valid North Carolina Concealed Handgun Permit to purchase a pistol without the need to obtain a Pistol Purchase Permit.
Q: You said that I have to get a Pistol Purchase Permit to receive a handgun as a gift. My father wants to give me a handgun for my 21st birthday. Do I really have to get a permit for a birthday gift?
A: Yes. NC law makes no distinction between purchases or gifts, and makes no distinction between strangers or relatives when it comes to transfer of a handgun. You must go through the legal process in order to obtain a handgun in North Carolina. There are no exceptions, except for Concealed Handgun Permit holders.
Q: What is the deal with this Pistol Purchase Permit law? I moved from one NC county to another and found that the Sheriffs of each county have vastly different requirements for getting Permits. Isn’t this covered by State law?
A: The Pistol Purchase Permit law was passed in 1919, and is a classic piece of Jim Crow-era legislation (Jim Crow History). The recognition of civil rights for blacks and other minorities meant that the Constitution applied to minorities. This meant that blacks and other minorities could exercise their natural right to self-defense, with the full support of the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution and Article I, Sec. 30 of the North Carolina Constitution. This did not sit well with the Ku Klux Klan (which for many years was headquartered in Raleigh, just down the street from the Legislature) and other racist groups and influential individuals. The racist members of the State Legislature knew they could not overtly prevent minorities from purchasing handguns for protection, so the seemingly innocent Pistol Purchase Permit law was passed. This law allowed local Sheriffs and government officials to discriminate with impunity at the local level.
Even today, the Pistol Purchase Permit law is implemented in an arbitrary and capricious fashion by 100 individual County Sheriffs. Some Sheriffs do little more than collect the fees and hand out permits to the law-abiding, because more than that is not necessary. Others implement ridiculous, intrusive requirements that either discriminate on a wholesale basis or are selectively applied so that discrimination can be more personalized.
With the advent of the National Instant Check System (NICS) there is no public safety reason why the Pistol Purchase Permit system needs to continue. The Jim Crow era is over, and the laws of that era need to be eliminated. Most people agree with that in principle, but for some reason when it comes to guns a significant number of people seem to think that discrimination and arbitrary requirements are a good thing. This is something NCRPA totally disagrees with.
We have been trying for 10 years to get the Pistol Purchase Permit system completely eliminated. Apparently when it comes to gun control a lot of people think Jim Crow is still a good idea.