Campaign flyer from Joe’s first Chapel Hill Town Council race, 1979

About Joe

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Chapel Hill, N.C., United States
Joe Herzenberg was born June 25, 1941, to Morris & Marjorie Herzenberg. His father owned the town pharmacy in Franklin, N.J., where Joe grew up. After he graduated from Yale University in 1964, Joe went to Mississippi to register voters for Freedom Summer. He joined the faculty of historically black Tougaloo College, where he was appointed chair of the history department. Joe arrived in Chapel Hill in 1969 to enroll as a graduate student in history at the University of North Carolina, and, along with his partner Lightning Brown, soon immersed himself in local, state, and national politics. Although Joe’s first campaign for the Chapel Hill Town Council in 1979 was unsuccessful, he was appointed to the Council to fill a vacant seat and served until 1981. In 1987, he was elected to the Council, becoming the former Confederacy's first openly gay elected official. Joe died surrounded by friends on October 28, 2007. He was 66 years old.

Friday, March 20, 1992

Chapel Hill official renews bid to limit guns

The News & Observer, March 20, 1992


CHAPEL HILL -- There have been no reports of gun-wielding lunatics prowling the streets of this quaint university town.

But Town Council member Joseph A. Herzenberg, renewing his call for the toughest gun-control rules in the state, is intent on making Chapel Hill gun-free -- and testing the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

Herzenberg began his campaign for stricter limits two years ago, when he proposed banning or regulating the sale of guns within the town -- moves rejected as violations of state law and the U.S. and North Carolina constitutions.

Now he's taking a more cautious tack, aimed at preventing people from carrying firearms in public places.

"I didn't think we could go as far as I wanted to go," said Herzenberg, who has asked the town attorney to draw up an ordinance restricting guns in Chapel Hill as much as the statutes and constitutions will allow.

If Herzenberg is frustrated, local gun owners and members of the National Rifle Association are outraged. They think the council member has gone too far.

To them, what Herzenberg describes as a "symbolic measure" in the low-crime town of Chapel Hill constitutes a blatant attempt to step on their right to bear arms.

"I am all for the registering of firearms, the waiting period for the purchase of handguns, and I would even support a waiting period for rifles and other firearms," said Mark Fisher, of Chapel Hill, who owns several guns for hunting. "Those things would actually do something, but a law like this on the books would be frivolous.


Mark Stone, owner of the Colonial Gun Shop in Hillsborough, one of the largest gun dealers in Orange County, refused to comment on Herzenberg's efforts. Instead, he called the NRA and asked one of their spokesmen to intervene.

Ed Klecka, in the NRA's communications office in Washington, said in turn that he could not discuss Herzenberg's proposal until it is formally presented to the Town Council.

But he did say that while state laws and the state constitution forbid municipalities from passing ordinances to govern the purchase, sale and possession of firearms, the ability of municipalities to control the carrying of firearms is more ambiguous.

"There are real limitations on the statutory authority of towns to regulate guns," said S. Ellis Hankins, executive director of the N.C. League of Municipalities. "A city that is interested in going further may well need some legislation, and that wouldn't be easy."

But citing state law that prohibits guns in school yards and on college campuses, and a town ordinance that makes it illegal to carry a gun in public parks, Herzenberg said he thinks his latest proposal is well within the council's purview.

"I have no illusion that legislation in this area is a cure-all," he said. "However, I know that if you make it against the law to carry a gun in town hall, people may be less likely to carry a gun in town hall."

"This is a good symbolic measure. It can raise the public consciousness about guns, and it can also have some deterrent effect. We like to think of ourselves as a peaceful town, but four people were killed last year, and if we can save one life, we've accomplished a lot."

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