There is a whole lot of outcry about the rewrite of Iowa gun laws that has now been approved by both houses of the legislature, but most of it, I think, missed the point entirely.
The discussion we need to be having isn’t a political tug-of-war over how and where legal owners can carry their weapons, but how to keep guns out of the hand of those with dangerous mental illnesses.
The tragedies we see very seldom have to do with hunting weapons, sport shooting weapons or personal protection weapons that are handled by responsible people, so restricting them would achieve very little.
The package gives some reasonable support to law-abiding gun owners, and let’s face it, those with criminal intentions aren’t going to be affected by rules and regulations.
In Iowa, sheriffs have little or no ability any more to restrict permits and gun access to people they enounter who are clearly seriously troubled, engaged in domestic conflict or failing to handle their firearms safely, and that is a real concern. Tragedies could be prevented with some reasonable control.
Everything we debate about - chiefly legal intervention use of firearms - almost never happens. It barely accounts for 1 percent of firearm deaths.
There were 185,718 gun-related homicides in the U.S. between 2005 and 2014, and how many of them could have been prevented is very debateable. But in the same period, there were almost 300,000 suicides by gun, that could have been prevented if troubled people could have been identified and brought to help.
There were well over 10,500 accidental gun deaths, and about 8 percent of them were due to people letting weapons fall into the hands of children under age 6 - could have, should have, been prevented, every single one of them.
We have to address the areas where the real problems are coming from, and we have to work with the areas where we can actually prevent some tragedies - not let this remain a political game.
The legislation passed in Iowa is not the end of the world it is being made out to be, but it also doesn’t do anything, really, to improve public safety.
The “Stand Your Ground” provision is probably the most controversial element of the package, but it’s important here to understand what is really being done.
Iowa law already has self-defense provisions for reasonable force in the event the person or others are physically threatened and can’t safely escape.
Here’s what we’re adding: That a person may be wrong in their estimation of danger or about how much force is necessary “as long as there is a reasonable basis for the belief.”
There is a lot of grey area to be interpreted there, but are we giving approval for people to gun others down just because a person may look scary to them? And saying that if they were wrong, it’s okay?
What’s a reasonable basis? Someone knocking on your door at night? Someone dressed in a hoodie? Anyone of color, to some?
People do have a right to protect themselves from harm, but violence always should be the last resort, not the first. Are we encouraging people to resort to gunfire in situations where calling police, or walking away, would have been more appropriate?
The new package specifies that cities and counties can’t declare any gun-free zones, though the state does retain some restrictions on guns in the state Capitol building. Why aren’t the same rules lawmakers use to protect themselves reasonable for a county courthouse or city hall?
The policy would also apparently prevent declaring public college campuses as gun-free, perhaps in keeping with President Trump, who once promised to bring loaded guns into the schools. This is hard to understand.
“Who needs or wants to bring a gun to school for any reason other than violence?” an Iowa State student recently wrote in the campus newspaper. “Who needs to bring a gun everywhere they go?”
Our campuses are statistically a very safe atmosphere, with their own security as well as local police protection. How would it help to have guns all over?
We don’t need the NRA, which has become an extremist group, guiding our public safety decisions in Iowa. Our state is known for common sense, and we should be using some now.
We can and should protect our Second Amendement rights, and still some reasonable protections to keep deadly weapons away from the mentally ill and out of places where they only stand to do harm. This shouldn’t be a partisan issue. We all bleed red.