Gun-rights advocates plan to rally Saturday in Hillsborough to celebrate the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Organizers expect between 200 and 300 people to attend the rally, from 10 a.m to noon at the old Orange County Courthouse.
Weapons are prohibited — state law forbids firearms at protests and rallies, while an Orange County ordinance bans them on the courthouse grounds.
Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens said he has no concerns about the gathering.
“People have the right to gather and make their point of view known,” Stevens said. “I do expect people to have strong feelings when a national issue comes to our sidewalks. We just want people to be engaged in a safe way.”
The rally will take place not far from the Eno River Farmers Market, which opens at 8 a.m. and is a gun-free zone.
Numerous people, including state and congressional candidates, will speak. Organizers have also invited Mark Robinson of Greensboro to speak. Robinson delivered a passionate speech to the Greensboro City Council in April about gun ownership. It went viral among gun-rights advocacy groups. He also has made comments on Facebook that some consider anti-LGBTQ and anti-Muslim.
Speakers from Grass Roots North Carolina, which bills itself as “North Carolina’s only ‘no-compromise’ gun rights organization,” also are on the program.
Grass Roots NC is a registered 501(c)(4) organization and can’t endorse candidates. But its political action committee, Grass Roots NC Political Victory Fund, recently recommended state House candidate Russell Walker in the race for the seat in District 48. Walker has been accused of making racist and anti-Semitic remarks.
The group Hillsborough Progressives Taking Action called on the organizers of the rally to disinvite the speakers from Grass Roots NC because of its support of Walker.
“Hillsborough Progressives Taking Action denounces Walker’s hateful rhetoric and any organization that supports him,” the group said in a press release Thursday morning. “[We] are deeply troubled to learn that representatives of Grassroots NC will be among the speakers at the upcoming Orange County Second Amendment rally in Hillsborough.”
Rally organizer Ashley Campbell said the event is intended to be educational.
“There are various viewpoints for people who support the Second Amendment,” Campbell said. “We’re going to have people who talk about the origins of the Second Amendment and others who will give provide more contemporary context.”
During a recent WCHL interview, Campbell and fellow organizer Daniel Johnson said they wanted the rally to be inviting.
“We’re not trying to incite people or rabble-rouse,” Campbell said. “One of our goals is to provide an opportunity for local officials, who mostly promote gun control, to listen to their constituents’ concerns. Most interactions between constituents and their representatives have it the other way around.”
Hillsborough Town Commissioner Jenn Weaver questioned the rally’s timing.
“When so many other fundamental rights are being eroded — voting, free speech, excessive bonds — I find the timing of the rally to be curious,” Weaver said. “The Second Amendment is not in any danger of being challenged or repealed.”
The idea for the rally came last spring after a lengthy debate about gun rights on the Orange County Local discussion page on Facebook, Johnson said.
“We are coming together due to an oversaturation of anti-gun sentiment and to show that those in favor of gun rights are your neighbors,” Johnson said. “We are not a militant group in the middle of nowhere. Please come meet us. You may learn things about the gun community and current gun laws that you may not have known before.”
He said that since nobody stepped up to organize it, he did.
Campbell encouraged attendees to wear an empty holster if they don’t like the rules and laws.
Becky Ceartas, executive director of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence, said she hoped gun safety would be discussed during the rally.
“I think there are areas of common interest, especially safety,” Ceartas said. “We respect their First Amendment rights to come together, and I hope we’d all agree that we can come together to prevent gun violence.”