“If it comes to pass that they want to infringe upon the people’s rights to carry guns, it’s going to be a bad day for somebody.”
Sensing the tides may be shifting in the nation’s long-simmering debate over gun laws, Carrol Mitchem, chairman of the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners in North Carolina, wanted to make clear where he stood on the issue.
On Monday night, Mitchem joined his fellow commissioners in voting to declare Lincoln County a “Second Amendment sanctuary.” In other words, officials intend to defy state or federal efforts to tighten gun laws.
“The Constitution is very plain,” Mitchem told COURIER in a phone interview. “I have the right to keep and bear arms. End of subject, done, over with.”
The resolution does not change any laws and is largely a symbolic gesture.
“I don’t need more layers of government telling me what to do,” Mitchem said. “If it comes to pass that they want to infringe upon the people’s rights to carry guns, it’s going to be a bad day for somebody.”
Mitchem, a gun owner, cited what’s happening in neighboring Virginia as the reason for his vote.
The Virginia General Assembly convened its new session on Wednesday, and the newly elected Democratic majority has promised to enact several gun safety measures, including universal background checks, an assault weapons ban, and a “red-flag law” to allow the temporary removal of guns from someone who is deemed to be a threat to themselves or others.
While a significant majority of Virginians support gun safety reforms, more than 110 Virginia localities have passed resolutions declaring themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries,” pledging to defy any “unconstitutional” gun restrictions.
That trend has now made its way south to North Carolina. Two other counties in the Western part of the state—Surry and Wilkes counties—also voted to declare themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries this week.
While these resolutions have no legal force of law, gun safety advocates are still concerned.
“These efforts are problematic and somewhat dangerous because they may lead to local officials failing to enforce laws that have been proven to protect communities from violence and save lives,” said J. Adam Skaggs, chief counsel and policy director for the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Skaggs also worried that the rhetoric and actions of those behind the Second Amendment sanctuary movement could intimidate local officials and prevent them from enforcing new gun laws. He cited extreme risk protection orders, or “red flag laws,” as one measure that could be particularly vulnerable if local authorities’ refuse to enforce the law.
“I can’t emphasize enough that I don’t need no more government to tell me where I can buy a gun, when I can buy it, what I can do with it, or what I can shoot it at.”
“If you have a sheriff of one of these so-called sanctuary counties saying that they will not utilize a tool like an extreme risk protection order, they’re really doing a disservice and putting in danger the residents that they are sworn to serve and protect,” Skaggs said.
Christian Heyne, vice president of policy at Brady United, a nonprofit dedicated to ending gun violence, also expressed concern.
“All it takes is one instance, one refusal to remove a firearm from an individual who should not have one—for example, a domestic abuser—to turn an already dangerous situation into a deadly one,” Heyne said in an emailed statement.
Mitchem is skeptical that gun safety reforms could save lives and argued that more guns might actually make people safer. He cited the recent shooting in a Texas church where a gunman shot and killed two people before being shot and killed himself by two armed members of the church security team.
Ultimately, though, it all comes back to the Constitution and the Second Amendment for Mitchem.
“The Second Amendment does not need to be overruled,” Mitchem said. “I can’t emphasize enough that I don’t need no more government to tell me where I can buy a gun, when I can buy it, what I can do with it, or what I can shoot it at.”
Heyne rejected the notion that the Second Amendment was in any danger. “There is no threat to the Second Amendment in North Carolina or in the United States.”
He also went a step further, blasting the idea that gun restrictions are unconstitutional. “These laws have been implemented by the duly elected state legislature. They have been found constitutional by the courts. That is how our democratic system operates. Courts, not local governments, determine if a law is constitutional or not,” Heyne said.
It’s unlikely that there will be any gun safety reforms enacted in North Carolina in the near future, given the Republican-led legislature’s opposition to such efforts.
While legislation has stalled, gun violence remains a serious issue in North Carolina. More than 1,300 North Carolinians die from gun violence each year, according to Giffords, which gave the state a “D” grade for its current gun laws. The state does not mandate universal background checks, does not limit how many guns can be purchased at once, and has no “red flag” law.
Unsurprisingly, Mitchem does not support any restrictions on gun ownership. In fact, he advocates for far looser gun laws.
“It wouldn’t bother me if everybody carried a gun like they did back in the Wild West days,” Mitchem said. “The Constitution and Second Amendment are very clear you have the right to bear arms, so it wouldn’t bother me everybody had a gun on them.”