A shooter who wanted to do harm at Hendersonville’s City Hall might not encounter a gun-free zone.
In a split vote, Hendersonville City Council members on Thursday took the first step to authorize themselves to carry guns on city property. The vote was 3-2, with council members Steve Caraker, Jeff Miller and Ron Stephens voting yes and Mayor Barbara Volk and Councilman Jerry Smith voting no.
Although the vote was not enough to adopt the measure, the ordinance change will pass next month unless one of the three members voting yes has a change of heart. Under city code, a new ordinance requires a supermajority for passage on first reading —or four of five votes. On a 3-2 vote the measure would pass on Nov. 5.
Saying that the “world has changed,” Caraker spoke in favor of the ordinance change, which he had requested through City Manager John Connet. “It’s very public knowledge that white folks are targeted.”
“I would like the ability to have a weapon on me if I so choose,” Caraker said. “I’m not saying I would carry one all the time but I think it’s a Second Amendment issue. We have other perks that go with being a member of City Council. We have a parking place. I don’t see this as too much different. It is purely a defensive measure on my behalf.”
In an interview after the meeting, Caraker said he was referring to Islamic extremists when he mentioned the targeting of white people. He said he was stunned at the breadth of the threat when he attended a 90-minute program that Henderson County Sheriff Charlie McDonald presented last month to elected officials and others at the Historic Courthouse.
“Their stated goal is to take over the world and if you don’t believe what they believe, their religion gives them license to kill you,” Caraker said. “This kind of hit home for us. That’s what brought it up for me.”
Two council members, Caraker and Miller, hold North Carolina concealed carry permits.
Miller opened his remarks by saying he had never felt threatened in the chambers since he was elected to the city council two years ago. But he said the current city law created problem for him when he wanted to walk 10 blocks home from City Hall.
“It was comfortable to carry a concealed (weapon) on that stroll,” he said. If he is not allowed to carry a gun in City Hall, he said, he had no way of carrying one home from a meeting.
“I would like to include the city manager, the city attorney and the city clerk,” he said. “I haven’t said anything to them. I don’t know that their feelings are.”
Councilman Ron Stephens pointed to the community college shooting on Thursday in Oregon.
A concealed weapon “would be not only for the protection of myself and family but it would be for other people, like the people in this room. I am glad that Steve brought this up and I hope it passes.”
“We’ve got a whole police force and we can find people to come up here,” Councilman Jerry Smith said. “I just can’t see that bringing more weapons in this room makes us all safer. I don’t see the necessity to bring more deadly weapons into this room.”
Mayor Barbara Volk also voted no. Noting that Chief Herbert Blake attends every council meeting, she said she felt that was protection enough.