CRESTVIEW — Instead of having a regular Sunday evening service, New Life Missionary Baptist Church had a panel discussion on current events.
The discussion, sponsored by the Carver-Hill Memorial and Historical Society, involved input from community members of different political backgrounds including members of Republican, Democratic and Tea Party organizations.
County Commissioner Wayne Harris represented the Okaloosa County Commission and the Crestview Area Chamber of Commerce.
Also on the panel was Sabu Williams, representing the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP, and the Rev. Charles Flowers, representing the local clergy.
The discussion became heated when gun control was raised in a question regarding the Dec. 14 tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Williams and Democratic Party member John Whitley favored banning the sale of assault rifles that can fire multiple rounds before reloading.
"When (the Founding Fathers) wrote the Second Amendment, they only had muskets," Whitely said.
Williams agreed with banning assault weapons, but said Americans should be able to defend themselves.
"I believe every household should have a gun," Williams said.
Harris weighed in on the impact of additional gun laws.
"There are over 25,000 gun laws in this country; one more won't make a difference," he said.
Instead, the country should focus on improving mental health treatment, he said, adding that God should be brought back to public schools, a statement that drew applause.
Among other topics discussed involved Crestview's economic infrastructure and political differences within the parties.
Organizers allowed questions from the audience, one of which pertained to whether Crestview traffic can be alleviated on State Road 85.
The county lacks the funds to add or improve roadways, Harris said, adding that neither he nor the other commissioners have a say on S.R. 85.
"Highway 85 is a state road; we can't touch it," he said.
The Rev. Jerry Jones, associate pastor at Mercy Seat Ministries in Fort Walton Beach, was the discussion’s facilitator.
"Things got a little heated at the end, but that’s the thing about living in this country where there are different points of view," he said.
The Rev. Sanford Hayes was pleased with the event.
"It was a good turnout," he said. "The (panel members) answered the questions in an intelligent manner."
Hayes said he thought the audience gained insight on the issues discussed.
The panel was part of Carver-Hill's recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Hayes previously said this panel discussion is part of King's dream of becoming one nation, not divided.
Shalimar residents Gary and Nancy Stelling attended to support Whitley and the Democratic Party.
"It was good to get everybody together and talk about it,” Nancy Stelling said. "It seems to me it was at least a good starting point."
Arden Farley, an Okaloosa County resident, agreed.
"I thought it was good," Farley said. "I thought they all made excellent points."
"I plan on coming to the next one," Farley said.
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Matthew Brown at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbMatthew.