Durham is not a nightmare. You can't even compare it to Charlotte, it's about 5 times smaller. However, I still wouldn't suggest living there, because I suggest Cary. I live in Raleigh, which is also great, but Cary is absolutely wonderful, almost zero crime, and plenty to do. It is always in the top ten places in the US to live. Not to0 big, about 100,000 people.
As far as the Carolina carry laws, they aren't bad. The only one some people have a problem with is no carrying if you have had a drink, not even a sip.
Basically NC is awesome. You can't really go wrong anywhere. Someone suggested the mountains, just be aware that the climate there can be much different from the rest of the state.