Gaskins: Put politics aside on gun, crime reform
GREENVILLE — The Democratic candidate for U.S. House District 3 believes she embodies eastern North Carolina, and her platform for criminal justice reform and equal representation for all the region’s residents stems from a frustration with party politics.
Barbara Gaskins, 39, a lifetime eastern North Carolina resident running for her first bid at elected office, has launched a “people first” campaign, which she calls a grassroots effort focused on rebuilding the middle class.
“We are all hurting the same way and, you know, I guess we’re turning it into politics but if we put the politics aside we can see and have common ground,” Gaskins said. “I am running to represent eastern North Carolina and I realize that consists of Democrats, Republicans, independents. I’m not running to represent a select few.
“A hurricane is not going to choose a Republican … or Democrat to destroy their homes. It affects all of us.”
Gaskins, who won the May 17 Democratic primary with 80 percent of the vote, was born and raised in Greenville. She spent the last decade in Washington, N.C., where she lived in 2018 when Hurricane Florence brought heavy flooding and immense property damage across the east. She now resides in Greenville once more.
“We had really bad flooding,” Gaskins said of Florence, which largely skirted Pitt County but did cause a weeklong power outage in Ayden. “Our lights were off for a week or two. I’m able to understand and embody what people are going through. In order to represent someone you need to have that lived experience in order to want better.”
Gaskins works as a reentry consultant through Community Impact Consultants LLC to help people released from incarceration adapt to and find work outside of prison. She assists with programming for institutions like Pitt Community College and the North Carolina Department of Public Safety.
In 2019, she founded the nonprofit organization North Carolina Community Outreach and Wellness Center, which deals with reentry and other programs for youth, adults and substance abuse.
“Until we help them, we’ll have issues,” Gaskins said
Gaskins’ platform for criminal justice reform hit home three days prior to May’s primary election, when on May 14 she found her younger brother dead from a drug overdose.
“Being the person who found him, it’s like ‘Oh my God.’ I felt I could help everyone else but I just couldn’t help him,” Gaskins said. “(There’s) a lot of self blame and self doubt.”
Gaskins had been helping her brother, Nairobi Blow, 36, of Greenville, since his release from prison on drug charges. As a reentry consultant, Gaskins felt that she was uniquely prepared to help him. The travails of addiction are not so easily quantified, however.
“We talk about addiction from the individual’s standpoint, but we don’t talk about it from the family’s standpoint.
“My being a reentry professional and having a brother who has an addiction, I guess no one understands how the family feels. The ‘what ifs’. Maybe my TV was up too loud, maybe my music was up too loud. Why didn’t I go get NARCAN? That’s what we as a family go through.”
Gaskins also addressed the national conversation on gun control ignited after a slew of mass shootings. After 19 students and two teachers were killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Gaskins said that there are measures she would take to vote in favor of moderate gun control. A gun owner herself, she voiced support for universal background checks and said she is willing to embrace discussion on red flag laws and assault weapon bans.
“If elected, my job would be to uphold our conversation,” Gaskins said. “I have no issues with guns. I’m a daughter of an Army vet … I have guns. I’m a responsible gun owner. Guns are not the problem.”
She said some type of firearms regulation and accountability that applies to people with mental illness needs to be in place. She compared owning a gun with owning a vehicle, which requires regular testing and a license to operate. She questioned why citizens are not required to regularly renew some type of documentation marking them legally capable of responsible firearm ownership.
Gaskins said “red-flag laws,” which have been part of a bipartisan discussion in the U.S. Senate, can be a slippery slope. The laws are intended to keep guns away from people who have displayed behavior indicating they plan to harm themselves or others.
She posed a hypothetical domestic violence situation in which false claims of abuse, either hearsay from neighbors or from one of the parties involved, could lead to the removal of guns from a home.
“Until our criminal justice system is level, that can be kind of misconstrued on so many levels,” Gaskins said. “There’s a lot of room for discussion when it comes to guns, but the discussions are needed.”
U.S. Rep. Greg Murphy of Greenville, District 3’s Republican incumbent, has been a proponent of the Second Amendment rights during his time in office. In 2021 he voted nay on H.R. 1446, which aimed to strengthen background check policy. That bill passed the house 219-210.
In April 2021, he introduced the Protect Our Military Families’ 2nd Amendment Rights Act, a bill broadening the scope of allowable firearms transactions involving active duty service members and their spouses.
In June 2020, he co-sponsored House Resolution 1013, which includes literature stating any jurisdiction looking to dismantle or reduce funding for law enforcement must remove rules hindering individual gun ownership or access to firearms.
Murphy co-sponsored the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2019 in January of that year. It allows a person with a valid concealed carry permit in any state, or eligible to concealed carry in their state of residence, to do so in another state where individuals can carry such weapons.
The bill would also make it so someone lawfully concealed carrying in another state would not be subject to federal prohibitions on possessing a firearm in a school zone or prevent them from carrying or possessing the concealed weapon in federally owned lands open to the public.
The Daily Reflector has contacted Murphy’s office several times over two weeks seeking an interview for this story. Neither the congressman nor his spokeswoman responded.
The new District 3 is made up of most of coastal N.C. It includes the counties of Currituck, Camden, Dare, Hyde, Tyrrell, Washington, Beaufort, Pamlico, Carteret, Craven, Jones, Onslow, Lenoir, Pender, Sampson, Duplin, parts of Wayne and southeastern Pitt county. N.C. State Board of Elections data on registered voters in the district says 186,172 are Republicans, 140,702 are Democrats and 168,106 are unaffiliated.
In 2020, Murphy defeated Democrat Daryl Farrow with 63 percent of the vote.