Buncombe residents seek Second Amendment “sanctuary”

Woman with purple pistol
DEFENSIVE POSITION: Local advocates for gun rights hope the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners will pass a resolution opposing laws that restrict access to firearms. Photo by Joe Pellegrino

For a growing contingent of Buncombe County residents, the supreme law of the land isn’t enough. While the U.S. Constitution guarantees Americans the right to keep and bear arms under the Second Amendment, local gun rights activists are asking the county Board of Commissioners to add what they see as another layer of protection: status as a Second Amendment “sanctuary.”

Under language proposed by the N.C. Federation of Republican Men, Buncombe County would commit to using “all legal means necessary” to protect its citizens’ access to firearms. Additionally, county officials would agree to refrain from enforcing any “acts, laws, orders, mandates, rules or regulations that infringe on the right of the people to keep and bear arms.”

One Facebook group supporting the move, Buncombe County 2nd Amendment Sanctuary, had over 5,300 members as of press time, and an online petition had garnered over 1,370 signatures. “I want to protect and secure what rights we have left and be assured they cannot be taken from us,” says Candler resident Sandra Ingle, who is helping to organize both efforts.

If Buncombe commissioners approve the resolution, they would join the boards of neighboring McDowell and Rutherford counties, which both passed Second Amendment sanctuary language in January. Several other Western North Carolina counties, including Cherokee, Clay, Macon and Haywood, have either enacted sanctuary resolutions or will hold a vote on the matter in the coming months.

The county’s top law enforcement official, however, says passage of the resolution would bring no discernible benefit for Buncombe gun owners. “With all due respect to our county commissioners, our gun laws are regulated by state law in North Carolina,” said Buncombe County Sheriff Quentin Miller, a Democrat. “Therefore, a resolution passed by the Buncombe County Commissioners would not have an impact one way or the other.”

Trigger words

In contrast, Ingle and other local Second Amendment activists claim that Miller’s interpretation of gun laws is driving the need for sanctuary designation in Buncombe. Comments made during Miller’s campaign for sheriff, they argue, hint at an agenda that would weaken Second Amendment protections.

“If Van Duncan was still sheriff or if he had his choice, I don’t think there’d be an issue at all. But with Quentin … well, I’ve got a pretty good idea who the people that are pulling his strings are,” says Phil Flack, owner of P.F. Custom Guns in Asheville and a supporter of the sanctuary resolution. “They’d act to eliminate all firearms everywhere and our right to defend ourselves.”

And Ingle specifically points to a statement Miller sent to WLOS in March 2018. At the time, the then-candidate said “we’re long overdue for common-sense gun control” and that “I will not waffle” in advocating for policies such as renewing a federal assault weapons ban, removing firearms from violent criminals and raising the age for gun purchases to 21.

Miller reaffirmed that stance in a Jan. 28 email to Xpress, saying that he would abide by all state-level firearms regulations but continue to advocate for stronger measures. He called the sanctuary resolution “a political football that gets rolled out every election season.”

“We’ve heard for a long time that Democrats are going to take your guns, going all the way back to President [Bill] Clinton and, of course, with President [Barack] Obama,” Miller continued. “We live in a time of cheap political attacks that are not grounded in fact, but it is possible to support the Second Amendment as I do and also support common-sense regulations like background checks, which are not in violation of our U.S. Constitution.”

Shot in the dark

The Buncombe County gun rights movement gained momentum quickly — Ingle’s Facebook group was established on Jan. 12, less than a month ago — but it is unclear who exactly sparked the recent push. According to Chad Nesbitt of SKYline News, the first sign of local Second Amendment sanctuary advocacy was an unattributed flyer asking residents to speak for gun rights at the Tuesday, Feb. 4, regular meeting of the Board of Commissioners.

No individual or organization Xpress contacted for this article claimed responsibility for distributing the flyer. Fremont Brown, mountain region vice president for the N.C. Federation of Republican Men, said his group does not use the term “sanctuary” and prefers “constitutional rights protection county.”

In response to reports that the flyer had been handed out at the Asheville Gun & Knife Show at the WNC Ag Center on Jan. 4-5, organizer Mike Kent said he wasn’t aware of its origin. “I require anyone distributing material to check in with me and get approval, but obviously this person bypassed our rules,” he said.

And the Black Mountain John Brown Gun Club, a local community defense group opposing “racist, homophobic, classist and patriarchal systems,” objects to the sanctuary language because it co-opts advocacy for vulnerable migrants. “In many cases, these efforts appear to be fake solutions looking for problems,” added a Jan. 24 statement from the organization.

The Buncombe movement does come at a time of increased state and national attention on the Second Amendment. In opposition to new gun control laws proposed by Virginia’s Democratic-controlled legislature, approximately 22,000 people from across the country protested on Jan. 20 in Richmond.

During that rally, North Carolina Rep. Keith Kidwell, R-Beaufort, delivered a letter signed by at least 50 of his Republican colleagues to Virginia’s Republican caucus in support of Second Amendment sanctuaries. Signers from WNC included Jake Johnson, R-Henderson; Michele Presnell, R-Yancey; and Kevin Corbin, R-Macon.

Off target

Prior to the Feb. 4 meeting, Xpress reached out to all six Buncombe commissioners regarding their stance on the proposed resolution. The board’s two Republicans — Joe Belcher and Robert Pressley — did not respond to multiple requests for comment, nor did Democrat Al Whitesides. The seat previously held by Republican Mike Fryar is vacant following Fryar’s death Feb. 2.

Of the remaining three Democrats, only Jasmine Beach-Ferrara directly confirmed that she was opposed to the Second Amendment sanctuary designation. “Due to the current failure to regulate access to guns, children and teachers in our community have to do active shooter drills regularly. As an elected official and as a mom, I cannot express strenuously enough how much I support gun control legislation,” she added.

Although board Chair Brownie Newman did not explicitly confirm his opposition, he shared support for “additional gun safety policies, such as universal background checks and a ban on military-style assault weapons.” He noted that county commissions cannot adopt or enforce firearm regulations independently and that enforcement of state laws at the county level is the responsibility of the sheriff.

Commissioner Amanda Edwards took a different tack in her response. “I don’t want Buncombe County to become a pawn in a divisive national issue, be it this issue or the next one that comes around. Instead, we need to be coming together to find common ground and work together on solutions to the challenges we face as a community,” she said.

As of press time, advocates were gearing up for what gun shop owner Flack calls a “peaceful demonstration” for gun rights at the commission meeting. However, he shares a message for those who might oppose their goal.

“There might be a couple of people from antifa and some of these groups that might show up and try to disrupt it,” Flack says. “I wouldn’t want to be one of them, if you know what I mean. I think they’ll be sorely outnumbered.”

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Green Scene editor and a reporter for Mountain Xpress. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville, and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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24 thoughts on “Buncombe residents seek Second Amendment “sanctuary”

  1. Austin

    Like Miller said, this is pointless. The gun fetish freaks want to be able to overthrow a democratically elected government. That is the only logical explanation for wanting assault rifles. They are treasonous and dangerous. And until they start supporting common sense gun legislation then they are what they are, fringe elements out of touch with current reality.

    • Lulz

      Why yes because a government that tells its citizens what it can’t do while GIFTING the disregarding of laws and rules to corporations and big tourism is one that is fair and just lulz. And that’s locally.

      See if your democracy can end the disgusting TDA and the shoveling of money to a small minority while people like me have to pay for it. And ask them why property that I worked and paid for is under strict rules while these cronies have literally free reign to do as they please. Also ask the why your “democracy” voted in a sales tax for AB Tech that was diverted away and used as a slush fund fir the county. Also ask your democracy why it releases violent illegals back onto the streets instead of treating them as the threats they really are. But then again that takes someone who looks at the government for what it is.. A criminal enterprise that works for the well connected and whatever special interests the politicians can pander to. be big winners in the ‘democracy”.

      • grima

        Gun purchase and ownership is already a protected right in Buncombe County, as it is in North Carolina, as it is in all of the United States. These meaningless “sanctuary” gestures are that, meaningless.

    • MarisaMV

      Exactly, Austin. Bumcombe County is a Progressive County. That doesn’t mean the County is Against the 2nd Amendment.
      These Amosexuals keep fear mongering every single Election cycle that their Guns are going to be “Taken Away.” It’s nonsense.
      Common sense laws restricting domestic violence offenders, terrorists, mentally ill is NOT taking away a citizen’s “right to bear
      arms.”

  2. Shepdog

    Simply put more gun laws as pushed by the liberal left does not correct the problem. Criminals do not buy legal guns. Look at Wyoming where everyone is armed they do not have near the problems California, New York,or Illinois has. The right to bear arms is our right ,and needs to be protected. The assault weapons narrative is crazy anything a bat,knife,stick etc can be used to assault someone. My guns are home alone and never harm anyone.

    • MarisaMV

      So compare the population of Wyoming to California, New York or Illinois…..Doesn’t Compare. Neighboring states that allow easy access to AR-15s and AK-47s create the problem. Why have laws at all with your logic? A bat is used for baseball. A knife is used to cut meat. A stick is used for multiple things. What’s the purpose of a gun???? Uh, to kill something, period. Scalia (who I hope it rotting in hell) said the 2nd Amendment doesn’t give Unlimited rights. Read his ruling. Keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, terrorists and the mentally ill is common sense gun legislation and should be expanded.

      • Sheepdog

        Marisa clearly you haven’t been across the pond the knives that u say are used to cut meat yes human meat . Therefore it’s an assault weapon, same with the bat you said they use for baseball is used as an assault weapon over there not just sports. They gave up their guns now they are murdered with whatever a criminal can get their hands on. Also population comparison in Wyoming versus, ny ,cali,ill etc is stupid .Fact is criminals know the citizens are not soft targets period. Again my guns have set quietly all day long and harmed nobody

  3. Jonathan Austin

    Elected leaders facing this effort should reply: “In our oath of office we promised to protect and defend the Constitution. Any additional action duplicates that which we have already addressed in our oath. Thank you.”

    • dyfed

      Transparent evasion, given what supposed defenders of the Bill of Rights have done in VA.

  4. Peter Robbins

    The resolution does not go far enough. It should be expanded to prohibit extraterrestrial infringement on our gun rights. That way everyone will understand how serious the problem is.

    • MarisaMV

      That is not what the Constitution says. What about the phrase “well-regulated” do you not understand?

      • Peter Robbins

        I think the Prime Directive takes precedence here, but maybe it’s time for Scotty to beam us up. Live long and prosper.

      • Lulz

        LOL so does the term general welfare mean section 8, paying for single moms, and free food? Twisting the meaning of what well regulated means is the hallmark of what lying left wing cons are all about.

  5. Skipper

    Unnecessary action by a heavily armed and highly paranoid group. The threatening comment at the should speak volumes to the fear and paranoia that besets this group. I concur with the sheriff…he and his deputies are the front line of defense for citizens and should not be hampered by meaningless county ordinances when tasked with protecting the general public. Buncombe county should be a sanctuary for peace and goodwill, and should reject this warped interpretation of the 2nd amendment being touted by conservative extremists who support violence as a means to an end.

    • Jim

      “Front line of defense”? They show up for the chalk outline, the armed citizen has ALWAYS been the front line of defense. Where were they for all the shootings at PVA?

  6. Bright

    Cute little picture…kids will just love it. Are guns for fun? Wrong message. Ugh.

    • Jon

      Guns can be for fun. Plinking is a pretty good time so is shooting trap, or long range for that matter. Yep they can be used for fun

  7. Keith Thomson

    Responsible gun owners need to isolate themselves from giving cover to Domestic Terrorists and neo-nazis. You will be known by the company you keep. Our American Heritage is defeating nazis.

  8. Owen Brown

    It’s important to understand that the right to self-defense is not a rights issue monopolized by conservatives; nor are gun control efforts exclusively promoted by liberals, as evidenced by the long history of conservatives attempting to restrict the abilities of vulnerable populations to defend themselves.

    We at the Black Mountain John Brown Gun Club firmly believe that the right to self-defense is a birthright of all humans, and can neither be granted nor taken away by the state. As such, we are proudly both anti-authoritarian and pro-gun.

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