Gunter was born in Alexandria, the seat of Rapides Parish and the largest city in Central Louisiana, to Carl N. "Euddie" Gunter, Sr. (June 23, 1916 – November 10, 1975), and Gladys Slay Gunter Richardson (April 18, 1920 – January 14, 2009) His paternal grandparents were John Gunter (January 31, 1886 – July 26, 1963) and Mary Hooper Gunter (May 21, 1895 – January 6, 1976). His maternal grandparents were Charles O. "Buck" Slay, Sr. (November 3, 1894 – September 10, 1967), and the former Louella Sullivan (September 22, 1899 – December 13, 1996). Gunter was a maternal nephew of former Rapides Parish Assessor Charles O. Slay Jr.
Gunter was the oldest of five children. His siblings are John O. Gunter, Travis Gunter, and a sister, Gladys Mae Gunter Norris. The other brother, Elton Wayne Gunter (February 12, 1946 – February 17, 1947), died from a childhood illness.
A 1957 graduate of Buckeye High School in eastern Rapides Parish, Gunter was voted "Most Athletic" and class president in his senior year. He attended Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge and Louisiana College at Pineville. A physically large man, Gunter had the build of a hard-working farmer and outdoorsman with large, rough hands and square jaws. In the early 1980s, Gunter accidentally chopped off the first joint of his index finger while doing farmwork. He could not retrieve the body part to have it sewn back on because his dog ate the end of his finger.
In 1957, Gunter married his high school sweetheart, the former Jessie Paulk (born 1940), and they had six children. Carl N. Gunter, III (born 1959), Rhonda Doreen Gunter (September 3, 1960 - February 20, 1962), Melody Gunter Slocum, Penny Gunter Rosier, Fancy Gunter Manton, and Ryan Travis Gunter (born 1967). At the time of his death, Gunter had thirteen grandchildren.
Gunter worked as an offshore roustabout and opened a business called Pineville Motor Parts. He was also involved in real estate development and lived in a large, beautiful home at Kolin near the Red River that he had practically built by himself.
Maybe there's some way you can teach somebody to manage a child who can't be managed at home, but I don't know what it is. -- Carl N. Gunter Jr.
In 1971, at the age of thirty-three, Gunter was elected to the Louisiana House from District 27, where he remained until having been defeated in the 1991 nonpartisan blanket primary, commonly known as the jungle primary. Gunter acquired statewide attention for intemperate or even bizarre statements in debate. He opposed a bill introduced by Representative Don Bacque, an Independent from Lafayette, which would allow a wife to reject a husband's sexual advances. Gunter recalled his own wedding when his wife promised to "love, honor, and obey." When a woman marries a man, he said, "she knows what he is when she takes the oath, and if she doesn't like being roughed up, she can leave."
Gunter further aroused the opposition of feminists when he opposed the Equal Rights Amendment: "There ain't no way to make people equal, one's born a man and one's born a woman." He declared that government programs to remedy the problem of delinquent children would fail: "Maybe there's some way you can teach somebody to manage a child who can't be managed at home, but I don't know what it is."
In the early 1980s, Gunter got into a confrontation on the House floor with his fellow Democrat Shady R. Wall of West Monroe. In a fit of rage, the flamboyant Wall attempted to pull out a pistol from a boot holster. He was stopped by the sergeant-at-arms and Representative John C. Ensminger of Monroe from harming Gunter or any other colleague. Gunter was visibly shaken. When Representative Ron Gomez of Lafayette told him that Wall did not mean to harm him, Gunter replied with tears in his eyes, "It ain't all right. Nobody pulls a gun on me and gets away with it."
In 1987, Gloria Williams Hearn, a fellow Democrat and an educator, challenged Gunter for reelection. He prevailed with 8,507 votes (61 percent) to her 5,402 ballots (39 percent).
In 1991, Louisiana State Senator Allen Ray Bares (pronounced BAH REZ) of Lafayette sponsored a bill to outlaw most abortions in Louisiana. The National Organization for Women's national secretary, Kim Gandy, originally from Bossier City, directed a nine-month-long "grassroots organizing and recruiting effort" against the bill. In a debate over the bills provision regarding incest, Gunter stated that "That's how we get thoroughbred race horses." Gunter's advocates argue that he was asserting that fetuses conceived within an incestuous relationship should also have a right to life. The comparison with race horses, however, was used against him by his opponents.
Gunter already had a longtime contentious relationship with the local press. Former colleague Claude "Buddy" Leach of Leesville, who delivered Gunter's eulogy, told how Gunter once threatened Governor Edwin Washington Edwards into removing businessman Joe D. Smith Jr., then publisher of the local newspaper, Alexandria Daily Town Talk from the LSU Board of Supervisors.
The result of it all was that both Gunter and Bares were defeated. Gunter was defeated by fellow Democrat Rick L. Farrar of Pineville, 7,729 (57 percent) to Gunter's 5,929 (43 percent), exactly 1,800 votes. Bares was defeated by the Republican J. Lomax Jordan, an attorney, in a district that embraced parts of Lafayette and Acadia parishes. Eight years later, Jordan was unseated by fellow Republican Michael J. Michot of Lafayette, son of former state Education Superintendent Louis J. Michot
The Feminist Majority Foundation wrote in the 1991 edition of Feminist Chronicles that the defeats of Bares and Gunter were "among the sweetest victories" of the year. Gunter's choice of words will always be the subject of speculation and Louisiana political lore.
In 1998, Gunter was diagnosed with cancer. He died on July 6, 1999 at his home at the age of sixty. He is interred at the Holloway Cemetery in Rapides Parish. Gunter was of Czech extraction and formerly resided in the community of Libuse.
Former legislative colleague Ron Gomez described Gunter as having what urban people call "street smarts, that innate ability, also common to many rural folk, to smell a phony an acre away, to be suspicious of everyone who didn't dress or talk like him and to cut to the heart of a matter with cold precision. His politics were populist in nature. He was regularly graded high by organized labor and low by business and professional associations", such as the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry. Gomez said that he and Gunter did not become friends but "shared a mutual respect. Whether I shared Carl's beliefs or he disliked the way I talked, we realized that we both got to the House the same way and for the same reason: we were there to represent the people of our respective districts. I hoped that all the other members of the House practiced that philosophy."
In 1985, Louisiana journalist John Maginnis awarded Gunter the designation "Best Bill Killer": Gunter "knows more ways to kill a bill than the lobbyists know how to introduce them. The rhetorical leader to Earl Long, Gunter has the plain talk and pea-patchisms to puncture opponents' slick and sloppy arguments. He may not know all of Robert's Rules, but he has a flair for the dramatic, as when he preserved a quorum on an important vote by calling for the state police to round up ducking legislators. A labor representative, Gunter is totally unintimidated by any form of arm-twisting, from gubernatorial on down. When not disposing of legislative garbage, he takes care of mundane local bills for his police jury and school board—unglamorous chores that he takes very seriously."