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Sheriffs offer no 'hypothetical' answers




Despite the offer of several hypothetical situations, many of the almost 150 people attending Tuesday's tea party gathering didn't get the answer they wanted from five area sheriffs.

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Despite the offer of several hypothetical situations, many of the almost 150 people attending Tuesday's tea party gathering didn't get the answer they wanted from five area sheriffs.

But the sheriffs warned everyone early in the meeting they wouldn't respond to those hypothetical situations or what-if scenarios.

Most of those scenarios were underlain with concerns about new laws limiting -- or outright outlawing ownerships of guns -- and how the sheriffs might respond, seizing the guns or standing with residents believing the gun ownership right reigns supreme.

The standing-room-only crowd also showed an intense distrust of government, most notably the federal government.

Despite being unable to get the answers they wanted, the sheriffs frequently received applause when they said they'd stand with residents of their county and wouldn't hesitate to call on residents to help in the event of a calamity.

Sheriffs attending were Russell County Sheriff John Fletcher, Rush County Sheriff Ward Corsair, Trego County Sheriff Richard Hanks, Rooks County Sheriff Gary Knight and Ellis County Sheriff Ed Harbin. Graham County Sheriff Cole Presley was invited but was unable to attend.

Harbin was first up, offered the chance to talk about Ellis County's need for more jail space and the opportunity for residents to vote for a half-percent sales tax.

Tea party organizer Roger Ewing, in introducing Harbin, said he took a tour of the jail when the sales tax issue was raised.

"I am 100 percent convinced that we need to pass a bond issue for the Ellis County jail," he said.

Harbin recounted many of the reasons for the expansion, ranging from a lack of space to now spending approximately $200,000 each year to house inmates in jails in area county jails and as far away as the Ford County jail in Dodge City.

Ellis County inmates are housed in Rooks and Trego counties, as well as Russell County when it isn't full, he said.

The vote on the sales tax will be May 14, with the sales tax lasting for five years or until the project is paid off, whichever comes first.

He then turned to the issue of the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms.

"Myself and everybody here believe in the Second Amendment," he said. "But we all know there are people out there that shouldn't own guns."

And he said there's been talk since he started in law enforcement about measures that would force law enforcement to seize guns from law-abiding citizens.

"That hasn't happened yet," he said. "And that's been 30 years."

All five of the sheriffs said they had taken oaths to uphold both the state and federal constitutions and plan to follow that oath.

They also expressed their solidarity with residents of the county they represent.

"I take that oath very seriously," Corsair said. "I will protect the rights of my citizens."

Fletcher, Russell's sheriff, said he and the other sheriffs attending weren't going to respond to a series of hypothetical situations, just as he said he won't respond to a series of surveys that are being taken.

He went on to say any law affecting the rights of gun owners likely would be challenged in court before he was asked to enforce it.

"I have faith that the constitution that has served us for more than 100 years will work," he said.

Despite the admonition against hypothetical situations, the sheriffs repeatedly were asked a series of such questions.

"I think I speak for all of us up here," Fletcher said. "We don't want to get in the middle of what-ifs. Every situation is different. There's no way we can sit up here as sheriff and tell you what we would do. Every situation is different. I will tell you, I will protect the people of my county."

Time and again, people attending wanted to know how the sheriffs might react in certain situations or if and how they might put together a posse if mayhem breaks out. Or if they would go into houses to seize guns.

"We don't register guns in Kansas," Harbin said in response to a question about taking guns from people in a disaster. "We don't have any knowledge of who has guns in Kansas.

Despite a showing of general support, only Sherwin Stielow, a retired Kansas Highway Patrol trooper, stood in support.

"You can only do so much," he said of the role sheriffs play, "and you can only do what the law allows. Their hands are tied by the law."