Had Craig Hicks, the man charged with killing three students in a Chapel Hill apartment complex last month, committed his crime three months ago, we would potentially know more about where he purchased the guns in his arsenal, which consisted of about a dozen shoguns, handguns and rifles.
That's because until this past January, Durham County, the jurisdiction in which Hicks lived and was charged, operated under an antiquated law requiring county gun-owners to register their firearms with the Superior Court clerk. The Durham gun registry was the only such registry in the state.
Hicks was required to register his guns in theory. In practice, however, the law was largely ignored. According to State Sen. Mike Woodard, the law was established in 1935 as a Jim Crow practice, designed to strip blacks of gun rights. More recently, said Woodard, the registry had become a nuisance to gun owners and clerk’s office employees, who maintained the registry by hand.
In January, a new bill was passed making the Durham County Firearm Act obsolete. All the gun records were destroyed, according to a Durham Sheriff's Office spokesman. So if Hicks' guns were on the registry, we'll never know. We also don't know when Hicks applied for his concealed-carry permit, as those records are shielded from the public, according to the Sheriff's Office.
Hicks' guns were seized from his home by law enforcement shortly after the Feb. 10 triple-murder. In addition, authorities seized various scopes, loaded magazines and gun accessories. Among the guns found was a Bushmaster AR-15 semiautomatic rifle with a fully loaded magazine.
The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also does not know where Hicks purchased the majority of his guns, because transaction records are maintained at the location of each licensee. If a licensee goes out of business, transaction records are shipped to ATF's records center in West Virginia, but those documents are not publicly available, according to an ATF spokesman. Title III weapons such as machine guns, silencers and short barrel rifles, are require to be registered with ATF, since purchasers pay transfer taxes at the time of purchase, but those records are also not publicly available.