ROCKINGHAM — Joe Ward knows firsthand about the issues that come with gun confiscation.
Ward said he spent two years in Iraq as an international police advisor with the State Department and went door to door seizing weapons with local law enforcement.
“They had no means to defend themselves,” he said. “It left the people in those villages vulnerable to insurgents.”
He doesn’t want to see that happen here.
An avid gun owner, Ward recently started a petition on Change.org to make Richmond County a sanctuary and calls “for a county-wide ordinance to ensure that no attempts to disarm Richmond (C)ounty residents will be tolerated.
As of 8 p.m. Friday, there were just shy of 1,500 signatures. Ward said he’s hoping for at least 2,000.
Ward said he wants the county commissioners to “get on board” and vow that they won’t enforce unconstitutional gun laws or confiscation and hopes local law officers would “step down before they tried to enforce something like that.”
He has at least one commissioner already on his side: Ben Moss.
Like Ward, Moss is a member of the National Rifle Association. He is also a hunter and a concealed-carry permit holder.
“I am a strong supporter of the 2A sanctuary (counties),” Moss told the RO. “I think it’s a clear message to the state legislatures that the people do not want their second amendment rights messed with.”
Across North Carolina, counties have been adopting resolutions to become Second Amendment sanctuaries, where the right to keep and bear arms is protected, as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
According to a blog post on gunsrightswatch.org, sanctuary resolutions are often not binding policy, but “a peaceful redress of grievances by the political entity closest to the citizens … (that) typically announce the specific legislation they believe is unconstitutional or bad public policy and forward an official notice of approved measures to state legislative bodies and their respective governors.”
The Charlotte Observer reported in March 2019 that Cherokee County was the first in the state to make such a declaration.
Recently, nearby Stanly County and Pamlico County, a small rural county near the cost, both approved resolutions.
A map on gunrightswatch.org, last updated Jan. 20, shows nearly 20 of the state’s 100 counties have approved some type of resolution in support of the Second Amendment. Pamlico was not included.
The map shows only Chowan County has failed to pass the measure, which was reported in September by the Daily Advance.
Minutes from the Chowan County commissioners’ meeting reflect it was withdrawn from consideration after several commissioners viewed it as “premature” and “not worthwhile.”
Paul Valone, president of the gun rights group Grass Roots North Carolina, said the sanctuary movement is developing across the state, but won’t be as popular as in neighboring Virginia “because we don’t face the same legislative threat.”
The commonwealth’s legislature has introduced several gun control bills including universal background checks, limits on handgun purchases and red-flag laws, according to the Associated Press.
Earlier this week, thousands of pro-gun advocates showed up in Richmond to protest the legislation.
Despite the media and Gov. Ralph Northam’s apprehension of the rally turning out like one in Charlottesville, Virginia a few years earlier, there were no reported incidents.
“Virginia is a prime example of why, locally, we need to go ahead and voice our concerns when it comes to our (Second Amendment),” Moss said.
Ward, who has nearly 15 years of law enforcement experience — including with the Rockingham Police Department and Richmond County Sheriff’s Office — is no stranger to gun violence.
He still recalls the date – Friday, May 13, 1994 – when he was shot in the chest by a felon.
“I’ve still got a bullet under my rib from where the suspect shot me,” Ward said.
“Focusing on legal gun owners is not the issue,” he continued. “It’s the people that can buy them illegally on the streets.”
Criminals, Ward said, are still going to find the means to purchase guns.
There are already multiple gun laws on the books, but legislators keep pushing and passing restrictions that are making legal gun ownership unaffordable, he added.
Ward sees those restrictions as “stepping stones to seizing firearms.”
“If government wants to make a change, there should be harsher punishment for those who shouldn’t have one,” he said.
President Donald Trump has come out in support of red flag laws, which gives law enforcement the right to seize firearms owned by someone deemed a threat to others.
“We must make sure that those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety do not have access to firearms, and that, if they do, those firearms can be taken through rapid due process,” Trump said in an Aug. 5 speech. “That is why I have called for ‘red flag’ laws, also known as extreme risk protection orders.”
But Reason Magazine’s Jacob Sullum, and others, have pointed out that there’s no evidence that such laws have prevented any homicides or mass shootings.
“One thing is clear,” Sullum writes, “(t)aking away people’s guns based on predictions of what they might do with them raises thorny due process issues.”
Sullum points to two cases in Florida where individuals were targeted by the red flag law — including a student who didn’t own a gun — because of controversial speech.
Ward worries that veterans diagnosed with PTSD could become targets of confiscation.
If a soldier or Marine was allowed to carry a gun while serving, “by God he should be able to tote a weapon here in America,” he said. “Get him the help he needs and leave his rights alone.”
Moss said he will be introducing a resolution at the February meeting of the Richmond County Board of Commissioners.
“I believe the majority of the citizens are in favor of this,” Moss said. “Everyone that I talk to is. Plus countless messages,emails,and conversations prove to me the people of this county want this.”
Due to the board’s public comment policy, no one will be able to speak in favor or against the measure since if it is on the agenda.
Nevertheless, Ward said he’s hoping for a crowd of fellow advocates.
“I would love to stack the room with people for support,” he said.
The commissioners meet the first Tuesday of each month.