BONNER SPRINGS — Patricia Stoneking's life path seems to have taken a natural flow.
The Bonner Springs resident naturally got involved with firearms through her family of hunting enthusiasts; she naturally found a role as activist for firearms that led her to lobby the Kansas government to change laws; and she naturally made a career out of educating people about proper firearm use.
Each milestone has led her to where she is today — the first woman to be elected president of the Kansas State Rifle Association and the first president to hold the position for three consecutive years.
Stoneking, a Shawnee native, first held a gun at age 8. It was a BB gun that her father gave her.
"My dad thought it was a cool thing to do," she said. "I had a brother three years younger, so I don't think he could wait for him to be old enough."
She said the most important lesson she gained growing up around guns was the proper procedure for handling such a powerful device.
As she matured, Stoneking said, she noticed a shift in how the public perceived firearms and increasing government regulations.
"In the '60s growing up, it was not like it is now," she said. "I don't know how we got where we are now, people thinking we shouldn't have them. I grew up with it. It was a natural thing to do."
She later became a firearms instructor. In 2003, Stoneking started Target Master Shooting Academy. She spends seven days a week teaching at the Bullet Hole in Shawnee. From beginners to advanced students who compete in shooting sports, Stoneking says, education plays a vital role in protecting the Second Amendment.
"We have people who come in excited and others who are nervous or apprehensive," she said. "Teaching is very gratifying, to have students leave class excited, no longer concerned or fearful about handling guns."
In 2005, Stoneking joined the Kansas State Rifle Association.
"I decided it was time to get in the fight and see what I could do," she said.
In 2008, Stoneking was asked to run for president of the association. She said it was an honor to be asked and took on the role with enthusiasm. She was re-elected in 2009, and even though presidents had typically served only two years, she was asked to serve a third term as president this year.
During her time as president, Stoneking has tripled the membership of the Kansas association to about 3,400.
Stoneking was honored in 2008 by the National Rifle Association for her role with the association and the strides she had made to that point. She was given the Marion P. Hammer Woman of Distinction Award, which recognizes three women each year for their contributions in support of the Second Amendment at the national level.
"I was raised in an environment, old-school, where everyone felt the Constitution was critically important, not only for our history but our present," she said. "We have to protect the Second Amendment in order to protect all the others."
Stoneking said she will continue to fight for gun rights as long as people continue to put regulations on something that is "a right, not a privilege." She said she believes there should be no regulations when it comes to owning guns.
"You can't take away the rights of law-abiding citizens to stop crime," she said. "Bad guys are not walking into gun shops."
Stoneking said she believed education needs to play a huge part in teaching people how to respect firearms.
"Somewhere along the way, someone put an evil face on guns," she said, adding that she would continue to fight until the right to bear arms without restriction is recognized.