Our Opinion: 2nd Amendment worthy of defense in Wilson County

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Designating Wilson County a Second Amendment sanctuary won’t override any gun laws, but as part of a movement sweeping the state, it could stop new gun control efforts in their tracks.

More than 1,600 people have joined a Facebook group dedicated to passing a Second Amendment sanctuary resolution, and many are emailing Wilson County commissioners to solicit their support.

“I believe the declaration sends a message that we will not stand by and allow state or federal legislators to restrict our Second Amendment rights,” organizer Michael McCroskey told Times reporter Lindell J. Kay for a story in Friday’s newspaper.

Wilson could join several eastern North Carolina counties — including Johnston, Craven and Pamlico — to formalize their support for the Second Amendment. Joel Killion, a Bailey town commissioner and former Wilson Tea Party activist, is spearheading a similar petition drive in Nash County.

The grassroots groundswell mirrors a backlash to gun control bills in Virginia that’s seen 91 of the Old Dominion’s 95 counties declare themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries. More than three dozen Virginia cities and towns have passed similar resolutions of support for the constitutional right to keep and bear arms.

Gun owners aren’t paranoid about the spreading Second Amendment showdown — one of the advocacy groups behind Virginia’s legislation, Everytown for Gun Safety, is spending a quarter-million dollars on an advertising campaign to push for gun laws in the N.C. General Assembly, the News & Observer of Raleigh reported this week.

Nearly a year ago, state Rep. Christy Clark, D-Mecklenburg, introduced the Gun Violence Prevention Act, which we described in this space as “a grab bag of restrictions on gun rights that range from the ineffectual to the unconstitutional.” One provision sought to require all North Carolina gun owners to buy $100,000 in firearm liability insurance.

Clark’s bill was dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled House. But it serves as a reminder that gun control forces remain active in state politics. Each mass shooting triggers an opportunistic push to punish law-abiding gun owners for criminals’ unconscionable acts.

We oppose bans on modern sporting rifles — often mischaracterized as “assault rifles” — like the AR-15. The main differences between AR-style firearms and other semiautomatic rifles are largely cosmetic. The guns are no more lethal than dozens of wooden-stock rifles commonly used for hunting.

Red flag laws, which allow authorities to confiscate firearms from those suspected of being a threat to themselves or others, require only ex-parte testimony and deprive the accused of due process. Seizing someone’s guns can be called a precaution, but it’s also a punishment. Should we punish people before they can mount a defense to the claims made against them?

While it’s easy to frame the gun debate in partisan terms, the Second Amendment isn’t just for Republicans and conservatives. Gun rights are civil rights. And here in the Old North State, there are plenty of Democrats and liberals who are passionate about preserving their access to firearms for hunting, sport shooting and home defense.

In 13 North Carolina counties that have passed Second Amendment sanctuary resolutions, 76% of Democratic county commissioners voted to support the measures. State Sens. Tom McInnis, R-Richmond, and Brent Jackson, R-Sampson, touted that statistic in a Thursday news release, noting the state’s increasing urban-rural divide. Though it’s clear they’re trying to score election-year points for the GOP, state Democrats would do well to heed the caution and recalibrate their rhetoric on guns.

“You won’t find a clearer example of the internal fractures facing the Democratic Party,” McInnis and Jackson wrote in a joint statement. “Even elected officials are bucking the extreme urban-focused agenda the Democratic Party elites are pushing.”

Why should county commissioners weigh in on an issue they don’t have direct control over? Because it can influence those who do. Wilson’s legislative and congressional delegations will note the county board’s stance. And the cumulative effect of county-level gun rights sanctuary votes throughout the state could help rein in restrictionists’ most extreme impulses.

It’s also commissioners’ duty to advocate for their constituents’ interests. In October 2017, our county board adopted a resolution expressing concern over the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s effects on landowners and the “development dead zone” it will create in the underground natural gas transmission line’s shadow.

That document didn’t change the pipeline’s plans, but the Times praised commissioners for standing up for Wilson County residents’ property rights just the same. Today, these elected representatives can similarly support law-abiding citizens’ Second Amendment rights.

We call on the Wilson County Board of Commissioners to adopt a Second Amendment sanctuary resolution. A unanimous vote from the board’s four Democrats and three Republicans would send a powerful message of unity. Civil liberties, including gun rights, ought to transcend partisan politics.