As I get back to the roots of my intellectual engagement with American gun culture — the rise of the concealed carry nation — I am going to look at the development of concealed carry laws in my adopted home state of North Carolina.
Although this development in North Carolina is not exactly the same as in every other state in the union, neither is it totally unique. It very much fits into the broader patterns of the history of concealed carry about which I have written previously, beginning with the early republic (up to 1850), followed by the restricted era (1850s to 1980s), and now with the rise of the shall-issue era (1990s to present).
In 1995, when North Carolina finally got swept up in the shall-issue wave started by Florida, it ended a continuous 116 year ban on the carrying of concealed weapons in public by ordinary citizens. Like most states, by the end of the 19th century North Carolina had banned concealed weapons. But unlike many southern states which passed bans in the early 1800s, North Carolina did not ban concealed weapons until the Reconstruction Era (though it had other gun control laws, especially against blacks).
1776 and 1868: Original and Revised Constitutions of North Carolina
The original Constitution of the State of North Carolina was adopted by the Fifth Provincial Congress on December 18, 1776 in Halifax. It was preceded by a 25 point “Declaration of Rights,” of which the 17th was:
“That the people have a right to bear arms, for the defence of the State; and, as standing armies, in time of peace, are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be kept up; and that the military should be kept under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.”
This aspect of the state constitution remained unchanged through the Civil War. In 1867, the United States Congress passed the Reconstruction Acts which laid out the terms the former Confederate States needed to abide by in order to be re-admitted to the Union. Among these were the drafting of new state constitutions and passage of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States (defending citizenship, due process, and equal protection).
North Carolina responded by holding a Constitutional Convention in 1868. 120 elected delegates – including 107 Republicans and 15 blacks – met in Raleigh to draft the new document, which was submitted for population ratification in April. Among its most important provisions were the abolition of slavery and removal of property and religious qualifications for voting, resulting in universal male suffrage including blacks.
The 1868 Constitution retained the original structure of beginning with a “Declaration of Rights,” which became Article I. According to the Journal of the Constitutional Convention, concerning the right to bear arms, the original report of the convention’s Standing Committee on Preamble and Bill of Rights proposed retaining the original language of the 17th point of the 1776 Declaration of Rights. When it was submitted for a third reading and final passage, Mr. John Washington Graham, of Hillsborough in Orange County, moved to amend the new Section 24 by striking out “the people have a right to bear arms for the defence of the State,” and inserting “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 amendment was adopted, and the report of the Committee on a Preamble and Bill of Rights as amended passed its third and final reading by a vote of 87 yeas to 20 nays.
Article I, § 24 of the North Carolina Constitution of 1868 thus read:
“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; and, as standing armies, in time of peace, are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be kept up, and the military should be kept under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.”
Interestingly, J.W. Graham of Orange Country voted AGAINST Article I which contained his amendment on the right to bear arms. A lawyer by training (earning his LL.B in 1960 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), Graham became an officer in the Confederate Army and was wounded (shot through both legs) two weeks before General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox in 1865. When he was elected as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, he was a staunch opponent of Reconstruction and repeatedly voted in the minority against change with other members of the Conservative Party.