Iowa reaction to Obama's gun law proposals

Today President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden revealed a list of proposals designed to reduce gun violence. The full transcript from the press conference is here. It’s embarrassing that we needed a presidential order to allow the Centers for Disease Control to study this issue.

After the jump I’ve posted excerpts from the president’s remarks and a statement from Representative Steve King (R, IA-04). I also included some comments from Iowa legislators about possible state legislation related to guns or gun violence. I will update this post as needed with more comments on these issues. UPDATE: Added Senator Tom Harkin’s comments.

SECOND UPDATE: Added comments from Representative Dave Loebsack (D, IA-02).

Statement from Representative Steve King, January 16:

“If there are Constitutional steps that can be taken to avert future tragedies like Sandy Hook, Congress needs to consider them. Taking steps to prevent tragedies like the terrible events that occurred in Newtown is a noble cause,” said King. “This is the latest attempt by the President to legislate through emotion, but doing so does not lead to quality legislation.

Reducing violence across our nation is a worthy goal, but it is imperative that the Constitutional rights of our citizens are not forgotten in the process. The right of the people to defend themselves against tyranny is the reason for the Second Amendment. We cannot disarm all law abiding Americans in an attempt to preempt a deranged individual.”

Who said anything about disarming all law abiding Americans? Nothing in the proposals President Obama outlined today would do that.

Statement from Senator Tom Harkin:

“Like all Americans, I was deeply saddened by the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  What added to our grief as a nation was that it also came on the heels of mass gun shootings in Colorado, Arizona, Wisconsin, and the senseless acts of violence that occur every day in cities throughout our country.  In light of all of these events, it is apparent that far too many Americans, including children, are needlessly losing their lives.  We must come together as a country to prevent future tragedies, future senseless loss of life, and to ensure that no American lives in fear.

“I applaud the White House for quickly convening a task force and issuing comprehensive recommendations to address violence in this country.  Importantly, this proposal protects the rights of gun owners, while advancing commonsense safety and crime reduction measures.  As a hunter, I know that the recreational use and collection of guns is important to many Iowans and as this debate advances, I will work to protect the legitimate rights of law-abiding American gun owners.  But we cannot continue down a path of unlimited access to any arms, including those capable of shooting hundreds of bullets in a very short time.  We can protect gun rights while continuing to support responsible legislation to reduce crime and make our schools and communities safer – goals that are not mutually exclusive.

“I am also encouraged that this proposal recognizes that a comprehensive approach is needed – one that focuses on ensuring that our students get the services they need and addresses mental health services in our country with an emphasis on prevention and early intervention.  As chair of the Senate HELP Committee, I look forward to bringing together experts to examine our current mental health system and how the federal government can ensure that people and communities who need help for mental health conditions have timely access to the services they require.”

Representative Dave Loebsack did not issue a statement about the president’s remarks but held a forum about gun issues on January 16. Dar Danielson reported for Radio Iowa,

Loebsack, a Democrat from Iowa City, says he has not had time to read over all the president’s proposals on gun control yet and could not make any comments on them. Loebsack says this is the first in a series of meetings he will hold to gather input on gun control legislation and safety.

Excerpt from Obama’s remarks at January 16 press conference:

In the month since 20 precious children and six brave adults were violently taken from us at Sandy Hook Elementary, more than 900 of our fellow Americans have reportedly died at the end of a gun — 900 in the past month. And every day we wait, that number will keep growing.

So I’m putting forward a specific set of proposals based on the work of Joe’s task force. And in the days ahead I intend to use whatever weight this office holds to make them a reality, because while there is no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence completely, no piece of legislation that will prevent every tragedy, every act of evil, if there is even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there’s even one life that can be saved, then we’ve got an obligation to try.

And I’m going to do my part. As soon as I’m finished speaking here, I will sit at that desk and I will sign a directive giving law enforcement, schools, mental health professionals and the public health community some of the tools they need to help reduce gun violence. We will make it easier to keep guns out of the hands of criminals by strengthening the background check system. We will help schools hire more resource officers, if they want them, and develop emergency preparedness plans. We will make sure mental health professionals know their options for reporting threats of violence, even as we acknowledge that someone with a mental illness is far more likely to be a victim of violent crime than the perpetrator.

And while year after year those who oppose even modest gun safety measures have threatened to de-fund scientific or medical research into the causes of gun violence, I will direct the Centers for Disease Control to go ahead and study the best ways to reduce it. And Congress should fund research into the effects that violent video games have on young minds. We don’t benefit from ignorance. We don’t benefit from not knowing the science of this epidemic of violence.

Now, these are a few of the 23 executive actions that I’m announcing today, but as important as these steps are, they are in no way a substitute for action from members of Congress. To make a real and lasting difference, Congress too must act, and Congress must act soon. And I’m calling on Congress to pass some very specific proposals right away.

First, it’s time for Congress to require a universal background check for anyone trying to buy a gun.

(Applause.) The law already requires licensed gun dealers to run background checks, and over the last 14 years, that’s kept 1.5 million of the wrong people from getting their hands on a gun. But it’s hard to enforce that law when as many as 40 percent of all gun purchases are conducted without a background check. That’s not safe; that’s not smart; that’s not fair to responsible gun buyers or sellers.

If you want to buy a gun, whether it’s from a licensed dealer or a private seller, you should at least have to show you are not a felon or somebody legally prohibited from buying one. This is common sense. And an overwhelming majority of Americans agree with us on the need for universal background checks, including more than 70 percent of the National Rifle Association’s members, according to one survey. So there’s no reason we can’t do this.

Second, Congress should restore a ban on military-style assault weapons and a 10-round limit for magazines. (Applause.) The type of assault rifle used in Aurora, for example, when paired with high- capacity magazines, has one purpose: to pump out as many bullets as possible as quickly as possible, to do as much damage using bullets often designed to inflict maximum damage. And that’s what allowed the gunman in Aurora to shoot 70 people — 70 people, killing 12, in a matter of minutes.

Weapons designed for the theater of war have no place in a movie theater.

A majority of Americans agree with us on this.

And by the way, so did Ronald Reagan, one of the staunchest defenders of the Second Amendment, who wrote to Congress in 1994 urging them — this is Ronald Reagan speaking — urging them to listen to the American public and to the law enforcement community and support a ban on the further manufacture of military-style assault weapons. (Applause.)

And finally, Congress needs to help rather than hinder law enforcement as it does its job. We should get tougher on people who buy guns with the express purpose of turning around and selling them to criminals. And we should severely punish anybody who helps them do this.

Since Congress hasn’t confirmed a director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in six years, they should confirm Todd Jones, who will be — who has been acting and I will be nominating for the post. (Applause.)

And at a time when budget cuts are forcing many communities to reduce their police force, we should put more cops back on the job and back on our streets.

And let me be absolutely clear. Like most Americans, I believe the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms. I respect our strong tradition of gun ownership and the rights of hunters and sportsmen. There are millions of responsible, law-abiding gun owners in America who cherish their right to bear arms for hunting or sport or protection or collection.

I also believe most gun owners agree that we can respect the Second Amendment while keeping an irresponsible, law-breaking few from inflicting harm on a massive scale. I believe most of them agree that if America worked harder to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, there would be fewer atrocities like the one that occurred in Newtown.

That’s what these reforms are designed to do. They’re common- sense measures. They have the support of the majority of the American people.

Speaking to Radio Iowa’s O.Kay Henderson, Republican State Representative Tom Shaw described gun rights bills he plans to introduce in the Iowa House.

“It basically says the federal government cannot come in and take our firearms. We will stop them,” Shaw says. “An Iowa citizen would not have to comply with registration or any type of confiscation, so it’s just a matter of the state standing up for their citizens.” […]

Representative Shaw plans to sponsor another bill that would let anyone with a permit to carry a concealed weapon carry their gun on school grounds.

“To me it does no good to take the sheep dog away from the sheep. It doesn’t protect them from the wolf. It doesn’t make them safer,” Shaw says. “These ‘gun free zones’ don’t work because these mad men or whatever you want to call them – they seek these ‘gun free zones’ out.”

Shaw is considered one of the most conservative Iowa House Republicans. Craig Robinson of The Iowa Republican blog recently featured a couple of Shaw’s Facebook posts as examples of how “Conservatives Can Be Their Own Worst Enemy” in the gun debate.

Iowa Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Rob Hogg told Henderson,

“I understand the House has – they had last year – a bunch of crazy proposals on guns and I have no interest in having any of those come over,” Hogg says. “If they want to waste their time in passing them, they will be dead on arrival in the state senate because we’re not doing that.” […]

Senator Hogg plans to pursue a different course in reaction to what happened at that Connecticut elementary school.

“We are focused on something that is within the state’s power, which is improving mental health, especially in those circumstances where we can also improve public safety by that.” Hogg says. “There shouldn’t be a person in the state who needs mental health services who can’t obtain those services.”

UPDATE: List of actions Obama will take using his executive authority:

1. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal agencies to make relevant data available to the federal background check system.

2. Address unnecessary legal barriers, particularly relating to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, that may prevent states from making information available to the background check system.

3. Improve incentives for states to share information with the background check system.

4. Direct the Attorney General to review categories of individuals prohibited from having a gun to make sure dangerous people are not slipping through the cracks.

5. Propose rulemaking to give law enforcement the ability to run a full background check on an individual before returning a seized gun.

6. Publish a letter from ATF to federally licensed gun dealers providing guidance on how to run background checks for private sellers.

7. Launch a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign.

8. Review safety standards for gun locks and gun safes (Consumer Product Safety Commission).

9. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations.

10. Release a DOJ report analyzing information on lost and stolen guns and make it widely available to law enforcement.

11. Nominate an ATF director.

12. Provide law enforcement, first responders, and school officials with proper training for active shooter situations.

13. Maximize enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime.

14. Issue a Presidential Memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control to research the causes and prevention of gun violence.

15. Direct the Attorney General to issue a report on the availability and most effective use of new gun safety technologies and challenge the private sector to develop innovative technologies.

16. Clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes.

17. Release a letter to health care providers clarifying that no federal law prohibits them from reporting threats of violence to law enforcement authorities.

18. Provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officers.

19. Develop model emergency response plans for schools, houses of worship and institutions of higher education.

20. Release a letter to state health officials clarifying the scope of mental health services that Medicaid plans must cover.

21. Finalize regulations clarifying essential health benefits and parity requirements within ACA exchanges.

22. Commit to finalizing mental health parity regulations.

23. Launch a national dialogue led by Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan on mental health.

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