Updated Jan. 22.
A growing number of North Carolina counties are becoming so-called Second Amendment sanctuaries, including several in the Charlotte region.
In general, that means local governments pass resolutions affirming they won't enact unconstitutional gun-control measures. Union County commissioners were set to vote on a sanctuary resolution Tuesday night, and Cabarrus and Catawba commissioners passed similar ones.
So far, Mecklenburg County – North Carolina’s largest – isn’t considering any such measure, according to Commissioner Pat Cotham.
But another of Mecklenburg’s neighbors, Gaston County, will vote on a resolution Jan. 28. Commission Chairman Tracy Philbeck says he was contacted by Second Amendment sanctuary groups that requested the measure, which he calls “largely symbolic” for now.
“I think it’s a good opportunity again to let the citizens know, regardless of who’s in Raleigh or who’s in Washington, on a local level, if it’s unconstitutional and if it infringes on that right, we’re not going to enforce that,” Philbeck told WFAE.
Gaston’s resolution says “criminal misuse of firearms is not a reason to infringe on the rights of law-abiding citizens” and that public money, resources, employees or facilities won’t be used to enforce any “unnecessary and unconstitutional” restriction of Second Amendment rights.
He’s had some pushback.
“From folks that don’t support it, their go-to argument is, ‘Don’t you have better things to do, isn’t this a waste of time?’” Philbeck said. “But the commission can multitask.”
In August, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order strengthening background checks for gun buyers and called on lawmakers in the Republican-controlled General Assembly to take action on two gun-control bills. One would have banned certain large-capacity magazines and the sale of some weapons to people younger than 21, and the other is what’s commonly called “red flag” legislation that would let family members or police ask a court to restrict someone’s access to guns if there’s evidence that person poses a danger.
Neither bill advanced.
Philbeck says Gaston’s resolution – which he expects to pass – is mainly to let residents know “where we stand.”
“I wouldn’t just rest on that because right now that’s what we’re saying, but if we have to, we’ll act on it in a very actionable and demonstrative way,” Philbeck said. He added that action could mean denying funds to county agencies that choose to enforce a gun-control measure viewed by the commission as unconstitutional.
Ahead of the vote in Cabarrus County, an online petition encouraging commissioners to consider a sanctuary resolution had more than 1,400 signatures. And in Iredell County, Sheriff Darren Campbell called on commissioners to pass a Second Amendment sanctuary resolution that his office submitted.
“Laws and regulations that take guns away from law-abiding citizens are detrimental to our society, because criminals will always find a way to possess a gun, therefore leaving citizens empty-handed, so to speak,” Campbell wrote in a column published Sunday in the Statesville Record & Landmark.
Lincoln County adopted a Second Amendment sanctuary resolution Jan. 6, with only one commissioner, Richard Permenter, voting against it, saying he “generally oppose(s) meaningless resolutions,” according to WSOC-TV. And Rowan County unanimously adopted a similar resolution Jan. 10, according to the Salisbury Post.
The debate over gun-ownership rights has been on full display in Virginia this month — and that’s where the Second Amendment sanctuary push picked up steam recently. Last week, the Virginia Senate passed bills that would stop people from buying more than one handgun per month, let municipalities ban guns in some public areas and require universal background checks on gun purchases.
In response, thousands of gun owners – including armed militia members – gathered in Richmond on Monday for what wound up being a peaceful protest.
Drew Pescaro, who survived the April 30, 2019, classroom shooting at UNC Charlotte that killed two students and wounded four others, has called for action on last year’s two gun-control bills in the General Assembly.
“It just amazes me that I still have to live my daily life affected by this tragedy and it’s taken this long to try to even get a vote on these two bills we have in front of us today, because for whatever reason the shooting in our state wasn't enough to bring us to a vote,” Pescaro said in an August news conference, shortly after mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, killed 31 people in 24 hours Aug. 3-4.
According to the Gun Violence Archive, there were more than 39,000 gun-related deaths in 2019 in America and 418 mass shootings in which at least four people, excluding the shooter, were hurt or killed.