Apr 102002

Does being shot at by someone with a paintball gun warrant returning fire with a handgun?

Micheal Barttels thought so. Now, he’s in jail and his victim is in intensive care.

Barttels, a16-year-old Lakewood teenager, was thrown in the Jefferson County Jail Saturday on suspicion of attempted murder, assault and juvenile possession of a handgun, among other charges, after shooting 21-year-old Jeremiah Witherwax in the head a week ago.

The debate now rages as to whether it was a case of self-defense or not. True, for those not familiar with the sport, paintball guns can appear to be real guns when it’s dark out, as it was when Witherwax and two buddies were driving around in their pickup truck, randomly firing at pedestrians. But the fact remains that, while paintballs can cause painful welts or severely damage an eye, they cannot kill – unlike the bullets from the handgun carried by Barttels.

In fact, most paintball professionals and shop owners will tell you that a BB gun is more dangerous. It is also a fact that it’s just plain illegal for anyone under 18 to possess a handgun, as it is to shoot paintballs in the streets.

The self-defense argument also falls apart when you consider that Barttels ran from the scene of the incident, which implies that he knew he did something wrong. He should be punished in accordance with the law.

However, we also do not condone the behavior of Witherwax and his two cohorts. They showed a blatant disregard for both the law and for innocent pedestrians. Should they be charged with assault? Yes. But should their punishment be a possibly fatal bullet in the brain? No.

Parents need to examine how their kids get guns. The community needs to be proactive about being safe with paintball guns and keeping them in restricted areas.








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