Per county policy, attendees weren’t permitted to bring their weapons into the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners meeting on Feb. 4. Nevertheless, plenty of firearms were in evidence. At the direction of Sheriff Quentin Miller, armed deputies set up extra security checkpoints on the first floor of county offices, a two-person sniper team watched over the entrances from the top floor of the adjacent parking deck and plainclothes officers sat in the back row of the commission chambers.
“My job is to make sure people are safe and also afford them the ability and opportunity to exercise their First Amendment rights,” Miller told Xpress about his preparations as an overflow audience filed into the building. The additional precautions were warranted, he said, because the Second Amendment was to be the main topic of conversation.
The crowd’s exercise of free speech lasted for nearly two hours as over 30 commenters shared their opinions on gun regulation. Most of those who spoke were in support of declaring Buncombe a “Second Amendment sanctuary” where officials would pledge not to enact or enforce laws that threaten the right to bear arms. (See “Shall not be infringed?” Feb. 5, Xpress.)
Speaker Dennis Gibson said it was important for commissioners to affirm that right due to proposed legislation at the state level, including House Bill 86, that would place stricter rules around gun ownership. “We do not have the time, the energy or the resources to lobby Raleigh to prevent those measures from happening,” he said. “What we do have is this: to address our commissioners, who are the closest representative body that most of us will ever get to.”
Supporters took diverse approaches as they pitched gun rights to the board. Sandra Ingle, who started a Second Amendment sanctuary petition with over 1,400 signatures as of the meeting’s start, said she relies on firearms to protect her family as a single mother. Jason Brodsky, founder of the Asheville Yoga and Gun Club, noted that guns can be a tool for mindfulness through “meditative marksmanship.” And Fletcher resident Bernard Carman argued that self-defense was a natural right that should not be regulated.
“There are millions of us who will not comply with further ineffective, dangerous and illegal firearm regulations, especially not confiscations via so-called red flag laws,” Carman continued. The consequences of advancing such “anti-liberty agendas,” he continued, could “not only lead this country into an all-out civil war, but also ignite World War III.”
Several attendees did back stronger gun laws, including Natalie Henry-Howell, whose son, Riley Howell, received national attention last year after being killed while confronting an active shooter at UNC Charlotte. “This isn’t about responsible gun owners doing the right thing, who are mentally sound and are good citizens,” she explained, as she advocated for expanded background checks and magazine size restrictions. “We’re talking about something that we could do to prevent this from happening to another family.”
The commissioners did not weigh in on the discussion following public comment, which board Chair Brownie Newman said was typical practice. “Don’t take the fact that commissioners haven’t responded — and they aren’t going to respond right now — as an indication that we’re not interested in what you’re saying,” he added.