Asheville gun-toter arrested at Waynesville abortion protest

·3 min read

Jul. 1—An Asheville man who attended an abortion protest on Main Street in Waynesville Tuesday was arrested for carrying a gun to the protest.

It is against the law to have a gun or weapon at a protest, picket line, parade or funeral procession in North Carolina. The same man had been spotted carrying a gun at an abortion protest in Asheville the day before and was being sought by the Asheville Police Department.

The Asheville Police Department had posted his photo on Facebook seeking the public's help identifying him.

"We got a call from someone in the community who saw him in the crowd on the lawn of the courthouse and thought he matched the description from Facebook," said Officer Sgt. Billy Benhart.

The man was carrying the same gun — a muzzle-loading pistol — at the rally here in Waynesville. However, he'd already put it away by the time Waynesville officers encountered him.

"Someone from the courthouse had come out and told him 'Hey, you can't have a weapon at a protest,' so he went and put it up,'" Assistant Police Chief Brandon Gilmore said.

He could not be charged for the offense locally since he no longer had the gun on him, but Waynesville police arrested him and served him on the outstanding warrant from Asheville. Duncan Small, 30, of Florida, was charged with a misdemeanor weapons violation of the no-guns-at-protest law.

'No tolerance' policy

Asheville is a hotbed of activism, making protests and rallies part of the landscape.

Asheville police officers try to stay in the background, quietly keeping the peace while ensuring the right of protestors to demonstrate without being in the crosshairs of violence.

"You should be able to express your freedom of speech without a threat of violence or intimidation," said Asheville Police Captain J.E. Silberman with investigations.

Protests can be a tinder box of high emotions. Adding weapons to the mix is not a good recipe.

"It's akin to why you don't discuss religion and politics at dinner with friends. Things can get heated and there is a potential for poor decisions," Silberman said.

Even more problematic, however, is rogue elements jumping into the mix with the sole intent of stirring up trouble. It's happened before in Asheville. A protest in 2020 was marred by volleys of gunfire, and downtown business owners still remember the 2010 rampage by masked anarchists who broke store windows and smashed cars.

All that said, the Asheville Police Department takes weapons at protests and demonstrations seriously with a no-tolerance policy.

"The Asheville Police Department made multiple arrests of individuals carrying guns during demonstrations in 2020," Silberman said. "There is a precedent in Asheville."

So after spotting two men with weapons during Monday's abortion protest but being unable to apprehend them at the time, Silberman posted their photos to the police departments Facebook page enlisting the public's help identifying them. The other man, who was seen alongside Small in the photos, was wearing body armor and a black mask, and has since been identified but is still being sought.

Silberman extended thanks to the Waynesville Police Department for their assistance in the case, as well to the public for calling in tips.