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State tightens noose on felons

WINTON – In order to take a bite out of crime, North Carolina lawmakers have placed more teeth into a state law dealing with possession of firearms by convicted felons.

According to information provided by Hertford County Sheriff Juan Vaughan, two major provisions in House Bill 1354 are worth noting. That bill, signed into law on Dec. 1, 2004, amends a section of State General Statute 14-415.1.

&uot;What I, as well as other sheriffs across the state, am doing is letting the public know that the law has changed in regards to felons who now possess handguns,&uot; Sheriff Vaughan said. &uot;It’s not a law that I or any other sheriff put into place. It’s a state law and we, as duly elected law enforcement officers, are sworn to uphold the laws of this state.&uot;

Sheriff Vaughan noted the new provisions of G.S. 14-415.1, one entitled, &uot;Possession of firearms, etc., by felon prohibited.&uot;

The new law revises the wording of section A of the State Statute. Prior to Dec. 1, it was legal for a convicted felon to possess a weapon that had a barrel of more than 18 inches in length or a weapon that exceeded 26 inches in overall length. Now, the revised wording reads, &uot;it shall be unlawful for any person who has been convicted of a felony to purchase, own, possess, or have in custody, care or control any firearm or weapon of mass death and destruction (as defined in G.S. 14-288.8).&uot;

Sheriff Vaughan said the wording of the new law defined a firearm as, &uot;any weapon, including a starter gun, which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive, or its frame or receiver, or any firearm muffler or firearm silencer.&uot;

In addition, the law’s revised wording deletes a portion of section A that dealt with a person’s constitutional right, even a convicted felon, to possess a firearm within their home or lawful place of business.

&uot;To put it as simply as possible, it’s unlawful for a person convicted of a felony to possess any type of firearm, whether that weapon is on their person, in a vehicle or in their home or place of business,&uot; stressed Sheriff Vaughan. &uot;This even includes a hunter who has been convicted of a felony. Under the wording of the old law, they could bear a firearm of greater than 26 inches in total length. Now it’s unlawful for a felon to bear any type of firearm.&uot;

He continued, &uot;No, we will not seek out convicted felons and check to make sure they are abiding by the new law. However, if they witnessed, by a law enforcement officer, in possession of a firearm, they will be subject to punishment as a Class G felon, according to the new law.&uot;

The new law applies to felons who have prior convictions of any type of felonious activity, whether those convictions were handled by the North Carolina court system or in the courts of any other state. Those convictions shall be admissible in evidence for the purpose of proving a violation of G.S. 14-415.1.

Conviction is defined as a final judgment in any case in which felony punishment, or imprisonment for a term exceeding one year (as the case may be), is permissible, without regard to the plea entered or the sentence imposed.

Anyone with questions concerning this new law can contact the sheriff offices in Hertford (358-7800), Bertie (794-5330) or Northampton (534-2611) counties.