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County officials debate gun restrictions

County officials debate gun restrictions

Apr 3, 2013 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

Riverton police chief Mike Broadhead and Fremont County Attorney Michael Bennett take a stance against certain bans.

Riverton police chief Mike Broadhead says the United States could solve its crime problem --but if it did, no one would want to live here anymore.

"The measures we'd have to take to do that would be so draconian that we wouldn't want to live in the nation created," Broadhead said March 21 during a "Hot Topic" discussion on gun control hosted by the Central Wyoming College Diversity Committee. "To enjoy our freedoms ... we have to accept a certain level of crime in our country."

He took a stance against restrictions on gun ownership in the United States, arguing that law-abiding citizens will be the only ones to comply with bans on certain types of guns. Fremont County Attorney Michael Bennett agreed, adding that criminals have more power when gun ownership is limited by legislation.

"You get a bunch of people together in a gun-free zone, and somebody who's willing to have a gun (is) in total control," Bennett said. "If you want to combat gun crimes, placing more restrictions on law-abiding citizens isn't going to do anything. ... Gun control laws and measures only affect those who are willing to follow and abide by them."

In fact, Broadhead said, guns are likely to deter crime in some instances --he talked about an armed robber who wouldn't carry out plans to rob a store if he knew someone in the area had a gun.

Instead of gun control, Broadhead and Bennett recommended a focus on civic values and the importance of human life.

"It starts with our children," Bennett said. "We need to get back to some of these core values we've gone away from and teach our kids that we live in a society, and we need to take care of one another."

Restrictions necessary

In contrast to Bennett and Broadhead, John Vincent, a lawyer and former mayor of Riverton, said he feels strongly about the need to keep assault weapons from being available to the general public. He pointed out that the shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., was able to kill dozens of people within a couple of minutes --something that would have been impossible without an assault weapon.

"You cannot say that level of violence is acceptable," Vincent said. "Is it so important for people to have 10-round clips and assault rifles that they're willing to have those babies get killed like that? That's a value judgment we have to make as a society, (but) I think it's wrong."

He called for increased firearms training, licensing, registration and background checks --anything that would ensure that dangerous weapons don't "fall into the wrong hands." When asked about the Second Amendment, Vincent said the constitutional right to own guns is subject to regulation.

"The government not only has the right, but it has a responsibility (to regulate guns)," Vincent said.

Donn Kesselheim, a Lander activist and Society of Friends member who has served as national president of the Alternatives to Violence Project, said limiting the number of guns in circulation by restricting production, importation and shipment likely would cut down on criminal use of guns, as would background checks. Student Mason Webb, a member of CWC's speech and debate team, agreed that the focus should be on the "flow" guns throughout the country, rather than each weapon's makeup.

"Taking the debate (toward) the particulars of a weapon is the wrong way to go," Webb said. "Reduction in terms of how freely these tools of violence can flow is something that needs to be considered. Guns need to be registered at secondary sales, and there need to be background checks at secondary sales."

If gun owners go through sufficient screening, Webb said it may be all right to allow the general public to own assault weapons.

'Assault weapons'

The group talked about the phrase "assault weapon," which Broadhead called an "emotional term" used to bolster one side of the gun control argument. Bennett clarified that the term came from the U.S. Congress when a ban on guns was proposed during President Bill Clinton's administration.

"(The definition) was based on cosmetics and ... the action," Bennett said. "It had to be semi-automatic and had to have two or more qualifying characteristics."

He said he isn't worried about the government banning gun ownership, but Broadhead was more cautious. He said the Second Amendment was created because the Founding Fathers were concerned about gun confiscation.

"I think we need to be concerned for the same reason," he said, drawing cheers from the audience.

For Broadhead, only homicidal or suicidal people should be barred from gun ownership. He also supports harsher penalties for gun-related crimes.

"It's the consequences for people who don't play by society's rules that allow the rest of us to come and go as we please," he said.

The next "Hot Topic" discussion is set for April 24. The topic is immigration reform.

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