Forum participants speak up for gun rights

Mar. 14, 2013 @ 05:01 AM

Speakers from the varied fields of lobbying, law enforcement and the judicial and legislative branches of state government presented a unified front during a town hall-style meeting Wednesday night: Guns are good.

For two-and-a-half hours, the speakers gave monologues and took questions from the audience of about 50 people gathered at the Lee County Arts Center Auditorium on North Steele Street.

The meeting was about half an hour late in starting, as the audience listened to a recording of patriotic marches while waiting on newly elected Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest to arrive. Once he did, Forest read from prepared notes for about 45 minutes, touching on themes as varied as health care reform, political bloggers, the Bible and a host of others — but never once mentioning gun control.

Most of his speech was a report of what the new administration has already accomplished, although he did get into new issues when talking about schools and energy. He said he’s the only Republican currently on North Carolina’s State School Board, but that there will probably be a GOP majority on it within a few months. Jim Womack, a Lee County commissioner and parent of a child at Lee Christian School, stood up and asked him to add seats on that board for representatives of Christian schools and homeschoolers, saying it would improve competition.

“Amen,” Forest replied.

Forest also said he wants North Carolina to become the first energy-independent state, which he said could be done through hydraulic fracturing drilling for natural gas and offshore drilling for oil.

Moving onto the stated purpose of the night, administrative law Judge Beecher Gray, who also founded the Chapel Hill chapter of the NRA a decades ago, spoke about the legal basis of the 2nd Amendment. He said the amendment doesn’t technically grant the right to bear arms, as is frequently claimed. It simply continues and secures the right which he said goes back to the English Bill of Rights, the basis for much of the U.S. Bill of Rights. He did not mention that England has since adopted some of the strictest gun control laws in the world, even preventing most law enforcement officers from carrying firearms.

Gray also went through a brief history of weapons bans, including ones that targeted religious sects in England and black people in America, plus full-scale ones in Germany.

“Hitler banned arms,” he said. “Confiscated them. What do you think happened to those people?”

Gray was followed by Lee County Sheriff Tracy Carter, a Republican who has been outspoken about his opposition to gun control and explained Wednesday it’s because he thinks people ought to know where he stands. He said he thinks gun control advocates are out to harm the Constitution and, by proxy, America. He then encouraged people to buy guns, saying it deters violent crime.

“I’m glad that we have law-abiding citizens here in Lee County that are armed,” Carter said. “If you notice, we don’t have a lot of home invasions.”

He did add one caveat, though, saying that even a legal gun owner who doesn’t know how to properly use a gun can pose a danger.

“If you don’t educate yourself on that firearm, you’re better off without it,” he said.

The crowd also heard from Thomas Rhyne, a member of the board of directors of Grass Roots N.C., which he said was formed out of the opinion that the National Rifle Association was too soft on lawmakers who weren’t pro-gun. He has spent years lobbying in Raleigh along with other members of the group, which also aggressively pursues lawsuits against government bodies it deems to be violating 2nd Amendment rights. That kind of tenacity is what he solicited Wednesday.

“You know what part of my beef is? Apathy,” he said. “Apathy is what’s gotten us to where we are today.”

After those four scheduled speakers were finished, Frank Del Palazzo, the host and a former Lee County Board of Commissioners candidate who also serves as an at-large officer in the the local Republican Party, invited Sen. Ron Rabin and Rep. Mike Stone — the area’s two Republican legislators — to address the audience.

Stone said he anticipates the passage of much legislation favorable to gun rights in the current political atmosphere, in which Republicans have strong control of both the legislative and executive branches. Rabin said that one such bill, which he sponsored, might be up for a vote soon.

Senate Bill 59, which would allow counties to place armed guards in public and private schools provided they are well-trained, echoes a proposition Carter made earlier in the night. Rabin said he expects it to pass and that he doesn’t believe decisions about school safety should be made at the state level, but rather at the county level. Like every other speaker, he encouraged those in attendance to get involved in the political process.

“You’ve got to stand up and be counted before we lose all of our rights,” he said.