Kernersville, N.C. -- When a man walked into a Walmart and started firing shots, many expected prosecutors would charge him with a felony. But, it turns out, under North Carolina law, firing a weapon inside a building that doesn't injure anyone is simply a misdemeanor.
"It's been very frustrating for prosecutors for a long time. Sometimes it takes an incident like this where innocent people are in a Wal-Mart and bullets are whizzing by their head to make the legislature understand," Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O'Neill said.
Kernersville Police Detective Ryan McGee reached out to State Senator Peter Brunstetter after 20-year-old Justin Ross Murphy walked into a Kernersville Wal-Mart in October 2012 and opened fire. Detective McGee says he was concerned prosecutors could not charge Murphy with a felony and that Murphy did not serve jail time.
Read: Man Arrested For Firing Gun In Wal-Mart
Senator Brunstetter says under North Carolina law, Murphy would have been charged with a felony if he shot into the Wal-Mart from outside the building or even on the threshold. However, because he was *inside* the store and not directly aiming at anyone, he could only be charged with a misdemeanor.
"When we first saw this, we started wondering. We thought, 'Maybe somebody has missed something.' But, we have done quite a bit of research...I feel it's part of my duty to do something about this," Senator Brunstetter said.
Now, Senator Brunstetter has introduced a bill into the legislature that would close the loophole. "This is not a gun bill. This is a criminal penalty bill designed to get people like this off the streets," Senator Brunstetter said.
Senate Bill 124 would make it a felony to "discharge a firearm from within an enclosure with the intent to do harm or incite fear."
Detective McGee told WFMY News 2, "This law doesn't go against guns. It's against the criminal act of someone using a firearm. I think if you are deranged or impaired, or whatever your reason for going into an establishment and committing this kind of an act, you should forfeit your right to legally possess a firearm."
Some gun rights advocates have criticized the bill because they're worried it might put more restrictions on gun use and ownership. However, Senator Brunstetter insists the bill is simply designed to punish people who abuse their right to own a weapon and put others in harm's way.