BOONE — A petition started by an Appalachian State University student is soliciting signatures to request that Watauga County become a “Second Amendment sanctuary,” following a movement of other municipalities where officials have passed a resolution stating they would oppose efforts to restrict a citizen’s right to bear arms.
The movement gained national attention when a considerable amount of counties and towns in Virginia started to declare themselves as “sanctuaries.” According to USA Today, officials started to declare the sanctuary status ahead of potential gun laws set forth by a Democratic-controlled General Assembly that took office in January. Town and counties in other states have started to follow suit, including some in North Carolina.
Counties surrounding Watauga have declared themselves to be sanctuaries. According to the Wilkes Journal-Patriot, the Wilkes County commissioners approved a resolution on Jan. 7 to declare itself a “Second Amendment Constitutional Rights Protection County.” Ashe County commissioners also declared their county a Second Amendment sanctuary on Jan. 21. Avery County commissioners authorized the adoption of a similar resolution on Feb. 3.
All three counties passed the sanctuary resolutions unanimously.
Connor Hoy is a 23-year-old history major at App State, and said what was being reported in Virginia was a “wake-up call” to him and he feared restricting gun laws could be pursued in North Carolina.
“I’ve become increasingly concerned about the trajectory of our nation,” Hoy said. “It seems to me that people have become so conflicted with what political party they are part of and have forgotten what America should be all about, which is individual liberty and freedom.”
Hoy helped to create an online petition alongside others in late January, asking citizens to encourage Watauga to become a Second Amendment sanctuary county. The online petition states that this would mean that the county “will offer no resources, funding, nor personnel in support of un-constitutional gun control such as red flag laws, universal background checks (or) weapons bans.”
“I’m doing this, not because I’m a gun enthusiast, but because I’m a freedom enthusiast,” Hoy said. “I want to protect my freedom and the freedom of the people I care about.”
Alison Gates is a spokesperson for the local Moms Demand Action group — a national organization and grassroots movement of those advocating for public safety measures for protection from gun violence, according to the organization. Gates said that proponents of these types of sanctuary resolutions operate on a “fundamental misunderstanding” of the rights afforded by the Second Amendment.
Gates mentioned the United States Supreme Court’s decision in 2008 in District of Columbia v. Heller, that it is “not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” The court’s opinion mentioned the “longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”
Many supporters of Moms Demand Action are gun owners, Gates said. She added that the focus of the work conducted by Moms Demand Action and similar groups is to develop and implement common-sense gun violence prevention measures — not to deprive citizens of their Second Amendment rights. The measures that Gates mentioned were universal background checks, high capacity magazine laws, assault weapon bans and red flag laws/extreme risk protection orders.
“The ‘sanctuary movement’ only serves to undermine these protections that we should all be provided,” Gates said. “Indeed, the vast majority of Americans support laws such as these that can keep our families safe. Rather than passing dangerous resolutions with no impact on our state or local law, our leaders should focus on solutions that can keep our families safe in North Carolina.”
As of mid-day on March 5, Watauga’s online sanctuary petition had reached 561 signees — halfway to its goal of 1,000. Hoy said he recognized that only physical paper petitions signed by registered voters in Watauga County would be legally binding, so he had placed a few in businesses around Boone such as Cornbread Tactical and Outdoorsman.
The next step for the movement locally would be to obtain signatures on a physical petition, and then to approach the Watauga County Board of Commissioners later this year, Hoy said. He mentioned that he had a concern with getting commissioner approval, as the board currently sits at one Republican member and four Democrats.
“All I really care about is getting a resolution in front of the county commissioners even if the chance of the resolution getting passed is essentially zero,” Hoy said. “I would like those county commissioners to look at me and their county constituents in the eyes and say that they want to limit or at least not protect our individual freedom because then I know where they stand.”
Commissioner Chairman John Welch, a Democrat, said he takes his oath of office to “support and maintain the Constitution and laws of the United States” very seriously.
“Because of this, I do not view one article or amendment as more important than the others,” Welch said. “I do not see a need for a resolution such as this because Watauga County will continue to respect and defend every citizen’s rights as laid out by this founding document.”
Commissioner Perry Yates, a Republican, said he believes each person has the right to have a firearm, not to harm others but to protect themselves. He added that he believes that the Second Amendment was included in the U.S. Constitution to prevent a tyrannical government.
“It’s not the guns who kill people, just like knives don’t kill people,” Yates said. “It’s the people behind the weapon who kill people. That’s my belief. I think it’s our constitutional right given by our forefathers to bear arms for the protection of ourselves.”
Requests for comment from Commissioners Charlie Wallin, Billy Kennedy and Larry Turnbow were not met by presstime.
If a sanctuary resolution were to be passed in Watauga, Hoy said, as a citizen, he would help to ensure the county was abiding by the resolution and not enforcing new gun laws or regulations.
“The only guarantee of eternal liberty is eternal diligence,” Hoy said.
To view the online petition, visit change.org and search for “Make Watauga County NC a 2A Sanctuary County.”