The death of Trayvon Martin and a string of mass shootings have spurred a nation-wide debate about the place of guns in our society.
Chief Craig Mellecker of the Dodge City Police Department believes that law abiding citizens have a right to own and carry weapons. “Citizens have the right to bear arms,” he said. “What makes gun (ownership) safe is owners that are safe, extremely responsible, and who keep guns away from children.”
In general, gun ownership by responsible citizens is not problematic, he said. “We have a lot of gun owning citizens in Ford County. If the citizens have the training and are responsible, there isn’t much of an issue.”
However, Chief Mellecker believes that it is virtually important to keep guns out of the hands of people who do not intend to use them for lawful purposes, he said. “Keeping firearms out of the hands of convicted felons and individuals with documented mental issues or substance abuse problems should be a priority with any new gun legislation. It is important for that to be in there.”
In his opinion, it is not necessary for assault weapons and high capacity magazines to be prohibited. “A firearm is a firearm whether it holds 20 or 30 rounds or is a revolver that holds six to eight rounds. The weapon can still be used to kill someone.”
“The firearm is a tool,” Chief Mellecker said. “It is the person operating the tool that we need to be watchful of.”
Gun owners who come into contact with a person who could potentially try to inflict personal injury or death should try to avoid the situation, he said. “You have to look at common sense. If there is a way to egress without using force, it would be a good idea.”
If necessary, citizens do have the right to defend themselves, the chief said. “If someone breaks into your residence and you articulate that you intend to defend yourself and then you use force that causes death or bodily injury, there is a chance that the county attorney would not file charges.”
“If your back is against the law and you fear that you will be killed or seriously injured you can do what is necessary,” he said. However, an investigation would determine if the force was necessary and if the person acted in a responsible manner. The investigation would include the interviewing of witnesses, the interviewing of the person that was injured, and the review of surveillance video, if available.
“I can’t say that you will be cleared,” he said.
Page 2 of 2 - Chief Mellecker believes that, in most cases, the best course of action is to call 911 and have law enforcement respond to the situation. “If they can somehow try to get away from the situation, that would be excellent,” he said.
Furthermore, citizens should avoid “vigilantism” or taking the law into their own hands, Chief Mellecker said. “Obviously, we do not approve of that. It doesn’t do any good to take the law into your own hands. It creates more problems.”
Trained law enforcement officers can best handle potentially dangerous situations, he said.
If citizens know about a person that is unstable or who possesses a firearm in violation of the law, they should report it to the department.
“They can call us. We can look into it.” Additionally, citizens can call “Crime Stoppers” to give tips anonymously.
The Dodge City Police Department works hard to raise awareness and encourage gun safety in the community, Chief Mellecker said. Although the department has never had a gun buyback program, it was previously a participant in a program that distributed gun locks to citizens. “As long as the gun locks were received and used, I would say that it was a successful program,” he said.
Also, the department’s Citizens Police Academy enables members of the community to learn about gun safety, he said. “We discuss the weapons that we (the police) carry and we go to the gun range.” At the gun range, under the close-supervision of law enforcement personnel, participants are able to learn safe firearm handling and firing practices.
Additional information about the safe use of guns can be gained by participating in hunters’ education courses offered by the Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism, he said. “It (the course) is a good way to educate yourself.”
The chief also advises citizens to record the serial numbers of the weapons that they own so that they can be more easily traced in the case of theft.
Chief Mellecker, a self-described hunter, is aware of the presence of hunters and “gun enthusiasts” in southwest Kansas. He understands why people value the right to bear arms. However, he cautions that owning firearms is a responsibility and encourages owners to educate themselves about how to properly handle and shoot them.