ROCKINGHAM — Richmond is the latest North Carolina county to become a Second Amendment Sanctuary.
The resolution, introduced by Commissioner Ben Moss, was approved in a 5-2 vote, with Commissioners Tavares Bostic and Don Bryant opposing.
The courtroom where the commissioners meet was packed to standing room only, with many supporters in the audience — some wearing T-shirts showing their support for President Donald Trump.
“As many of you know, we have seen the actions in the state just north to us, Virginia, and those actions have not been favorable in my opinion and many opinions in this room,” Moss said.
The board’s sole Republican said he was presented with a petition with more than 1,800 signatures and that there was a “strong need to discuss this resolution and how important it is.”
Moss said there are lobbyists and political action committees at work trying to limit the people’s rights outlined in the Second Amendment.
“That’s not fiction, that’s facts,” he said.
The resolution for Richmond County, he said, was modeled after similar ones passed in recent weeks across the state.
Roughly ¼ of the 100 counties have passed sanctuary resolutions, including Stanly. Craven and Robeson counties both reportedly passed measures on Monday. So far, Chowan seems to be the only county that has shot the idea down.
The Richmond resolution cites both the text of the Second Amendment and Article 1 Section 30 on the state constitution — which was used by Bryant in his dissent.
In both constitutions, the term “well-regulated militia” is used.
“When I looked it up, there’s only 23 states that (have) a militia, one of them being Texas,” Bryant said. “And what they basically have is a militia in case all the National Guard (troops) are moved out of the state.”
The militia clause has been used in the past century to claim that the right to bear arms did not extend to an individual’s right, Brian Doherty wrote in a December article for Reason Magazine.
But the tide started to change with the Supreme Court Decision D.C. v. Heller.
“The late Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the majority opinion in Heller, … pointed out that the amendment refers to ‘the right of the people,” Doherty writes. “When that language is used elsewhere in the Bill of Rights — in the First and Fourth Amendments, for example — it plainly means a right that belongs to every individual, as opposed to a collective with special properties, such as a militia.”
Bryant also took issue with the wording in the resolution referring to the entire board being “concerned about the passage of any bill or legislation which could be interpreted as infringing the rights of Richmond County citizens …”
He suggested changing it to “most of” since he — and Bostic — did not feel the same way.
Bryant also mentioned the fact that the way government supremacy works is that the state overrides the county and the federal government overrides the state.
“So if we go in there and make a ruling and the state comes up with something else, it’s basically overdone, it’s not any good,” Bryant said. “It’s not up to us to judge this. If you’re a law abiding citizen, you need more gun protection, so I will not be for this.”
For Bostic, a military veteran, one of his biggest issues was that there was no time to look at the resolution before it was presented for a vote.
“This board cannot jeopardize its integrity by behaving in a way that would suggest that we are emotional, with a hair-trigger,” Bostic said. “It came to a hurried vote. This board does not operate in that way … I would think we would operate as a team. This was not a team-prepared resolution.”
Both Bostic and Commissioner Dr. Rick Watkins said they were unaware of the resolution until reading it in the newspaper and wished the entire board could have worked on it together.”
Bostic, who said he is a gun owner and supports the right, also challenged anyone to show evidence where the Second Amendment had ever been violated in Richmond County.
Reiterating Bryant’s comments on supremacy, Bostic said the county could face litigation if it went against state or federal legislation.
“I think it’s counterproductive and even dangerous to suggest that we’d somehow go against (federal or state law),” Bostic said, adding that he doubts the Republican-led General Assembly would go against the Second Amendment.
“I pledged myself to the oath of the North Carolina Constitution as well as the United States Constitution,” he said. “I will not go against either of those constitutions for the sake of someone trying to have political office.”
Moss responded saying that when a petition is presented by more than ¼ of the voting population “and it’s important to them, it deserves to be more than heard … and that’s what we’re doing here tonight.”
He said the resolution was a “clear and distinct message” to the state government — whether Republicans or Democrats — “that you do not need to waste your time concerning our Second Amendment rights. They’re not up for bargain, they’re not up for negotiating.”
Moss acknowledged that there hasn’t been any proposed legislation similar to that in Virginia — “yet.”
“This is a way we can get ahead of the ball and let them know that we will not be like our neighboring state and have our rights infringed upon,” Moss said, urging everyone to look at the Commonwealth’s bills in committee. “No one cares about your own personal safety more than you do and you should never have your Second Amendment rights infringed upon.”
He added that the founding fathers put that in there “for a reason.”
“If you do not have that amendment, you have nothing,” he concluded, calling for a vote.
But Watkins, wanted to have his say, prefacing with the recollection of being given a shotgun by his grandfather.
“What we have is a political document, it’s not a political binding document,” he said. “It shows that we may support a certain issue.”
Like Bryant, Watkins said he was also concerned with some of the terminology in the resolution.
“By taking the Constitution apart, which is best left to the courts …, are we going to have people who have their agenda coming every meeting?” Watkins queried. “Some of those may be popular and some may be unpopular, but they have the same right to come forward … with a petition to adopt a resolution that supports their cause.
“It becomes politically divisive when you have issues come forward by a small group who requests such a resolution and then it doesn’t reflect the majority opinion of the people in Richmond Count, which is what we’re sworn to do.”
Despite his concerns, Watkins joined Commissioners Moss, Jimmy Capps, Kenneth Robinette and John Garner in approving the resolution, which resulted in a standing ovation.
Joe Ward, the former law enforcement officer who started the petition said he was “Super happy at the vote, and the support of the five on the commission that voted for it.”
“As for the other two, I am not sure how you support the Second Amendment if you can’t vote to protect it,” Ward said, adding he was “(g)lad to see the massive turnout and the support garnered for our rights.”