Gun debate heats up
Some favor assault rifle ban; others don't see tighter gun laws as answer.
BY ANGIE HAFLICH
In light of the Newtown, Conn., tragedy on Friday, the hot topic in the nation is gun control. It is an equally hot topic in Garden City, where like the rest of the nation, people are seeking ways to prevent gun violence.
While many locals don't see that tighter gun laws will decrease the likelihood of mass shootings, others see the need for at the very least, a ban on assault rifles, such as the AR-15 used by the shooter in Newtown.
Finney County Attorney John Wheeler said he has seen more than his fair share of crimes involving gun violence, but that personally, he doesn't feel tighter gun laws are the answer.
"It's the person behind the gun. It's not the weapon itself. I've seen murders with bludgeons, daggers, knives, bottles, fists. I mean, if somebody is going to hurt or kill someone, it's not the weapon they use. They're going to find something," Wheeler said. "As an individual, I am a Second Amendment person, which means I think the gun laws are fine and any impairment on the part of government is dangerous. That's just my personal opinion. It's not the guns that are dangerous, it's the people who use them in an unlawful manner."
Robert Prewitt, adjunct instructor at Garden City Community College and former Finney County EMS director, teaches a conceal and carry course and a women on target course.
Prewitt owns several types of guns and said he doesn't see stricter gun laws as the answer.
"I believe that the answer to firearms violence is education," he said. "Any time you fear something or any time you don't know about it, the best way¬ to learn about it is education, so why would this be different? Because it's a firearm? Uh, come on. If that was the only deadly thing we had out there, it would be a whole different thing, but it's not."
Prewitt's background and experience give him a unique perspective of the issue. As an EMS first responder for many years, Prewitt saw¬ firsthand what guns can do when in the wrong hands, and he had difficulty wrapping his mind around the incident in Connecticut.
"None of us gun people understand the guy either. His mother was an avid shooter. All of her firearms were registered, they were done according to the law, she did just what she was required to do and he still got them," Prewitt said.
Prewitt said he believes that the background checks one must go through in order to purchase a firearm are a necessity. However, he is resistant to stricter laws or bans on firearms.
"I don't have any issues with background checks ... I would love for them to refine that to the point that this mental health issue becomes a focus, but that's like trying to stack Jello," he said. "It's just a little disheartening to have people think that they have a better idea of how you should live your life than you do. At what point does somebody make my decisions for me? I have a little bit of a problem with that. I've made decisions for a long time, and I've had people's lives in my hands while making those decisions, and I think I'm fairly competent at doing that."
Austin Voyles, animal science and food safety instructor, also doesn't see a need for stricter gun laws. He sees all the talk about it as a contradiction.
" ... They want to make the gun laws stricter, so that criminals who shouldn't have a gun can't get one. But we are talking about criminals. The way they get that title is that they don't follow the law. I kind of see a lapse in judgment there — that we're going to impose all these new laws and people are just going to follow them? I mean, come on," Voyles said.
While he doesn't support the idea of limiting the rights of gun enthusiasts, Tim Cruz, former mayor and USD 457 board member, said he does think their should be a ban on assault rifles.
"I think it's OK to have guns for hunting, but why do we need these (assault rifles). I never had been able to figure out why people need these guns that have 100 rounds to them or a lot of ammo that you can install with them," Cruz said. "I believe as Americans, we should have the right to bear arms, but you have to draw the line somewhere on what those arms should be I guess. I don't know what the right answer is, and I don't know how you do that."
Janette Haverkamp, former district magistrate judge of Elk County in southeast Kansas who now lives in Garden City, agrees with Cruz in regard to banning assault rifles. And while she supports the Second Amendment, she believes it needs to be revised to reflect the times.
She submitted a written statement to The Telegram. The following excerpt is from her letter.
"Our second amendment reads, 'a well-regulated Militia, being necessary for¬ the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.' The National Rifle Association, many politicians and most Americans feel this means any type of gun may be sold over the counter. In 1791, armor piercing bullets, multi shot AK-47's, or a hand-held stinger rocket that can bring down an airplane were not even dreamed of," Haverkamp wrote. "Hundred-bullet clips are not allowed on a hunting field in Kansas and should not be legal in an Aurora theater or a Connecticut school room."