WINSTON, SALEM, N.C. - A 2 Wants To Know exclusive is raising new questions about guns and public safety. It all started as we looked into the criminal history of a Christmas Eve shooting suspect from Winston-Salem. The North Carolina Department of Public Safety says Patrick Smith has three previous felonies - but never went to prison.
He got probation time and time again. That discovery had a lot of you sounding off on our Facebook page. Many of you asked how did a felon get his hands on the gun in that Christmas Eve shooting?
In North Carolina some felons can have firearms and it's perfectly legal. According to an online explication of the law from the UNC School of Government, the new policy started in 2010. Under the new rules, those convicted of a nonviolent felony and having no domestic violence misdemeanors - can apply with the courts to get a gun again. But there's a big catch - you have to be approved and you have to have a clean record for 20 years.
Clearly that's not the case with the Winston-Salem shooting suspect since he's only 23-years-old and his last conviction was in 2012. We tried reaching out to both the Winston-Salem police and the Forsyth sheriff for an explanation. But we haven't heard back. So we didn't stop there.
We asked the firearm specialists at Hand Gunners INC in Burlington, NC. They say the suspect could have either bought the gun on the black market, stole it or had someone else without a record buy it for him. It's also possible a private citizen mistakenly sold him the gun - like if you sell a gun to your friend but don't know they have previous felony convictions. But that is still considered criminal - and both the buyer and the seller could face charges.
"What is suggested to everyone by the ATF is simply have them get a purchase permit from the county agency that they live in whether it be a hand gun or long gun. That way you know that you're covered," said Eric Hanshaw of Handgunners, INC in Burlington.
One more question popped up in all of this. So far the suspect has a laundry list of charges against him related to the shooting. But felon in possession of a fire arm is not one of them. We've called the police department to find out why, but haven't heard back yet.
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