I’m writing in response to the efforts by the Republicans in both chambers of the Iowa legislature to relax Iowa’s already limited common sense gun safety measures. Their efforts, if enacted, will result in new “Stand Your Ground” legislation and making the permit process for carrying a weapon virtually worthless.
I can almost see the Republican heads shaking and thinking, “Here’s another gun hating Democrat who wants to take our guns away and repeal the 2nd Amendment.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, I am a Democrat, but I own several handguns, a couple of rifles, and a shotgun. In addition, I served as a police officer for about 25 years, with about 17 of those years as a detective who carried a concealed weapon as part of my daily routine.
I also was a candidate for the District 7 seat in the Iowa House last year. During that campaign, I knocked on about 4,500 doors throughout the district and conducted dozens of public appearances, including about ten candidate forums with my opponent, State Representative Tedd Gassman. Not once, during any candidate forum, public appearance, or conversation on a door step, did anyone tell me that they thought Iowa’s gun laws were too strict and needed to be relaxed. It’s worth mentioning that District 7, which is comprised of Emmet, Winnebago, and parts of Kossuth counties, is exactly the kind of rural, conservative District that Democrats have had difficulty connecting with.
I feel that much of the pro-gun forces’ antipathy to any common sense gun regulations is based on premises that have little, if any, relation to actual facts. Let’s take a look at the stand your ground legislation. First, there’s a philosophical argument that needs to be addressed. Simply put, stand your ground legislation implies your property is more important than someone’s life. Any citizen has always had the right to use deadly force to protect themselves or their family members from the threat of death or imminent bodily harm. What they are not allowed to do, is kill someone who is stealing something out of their car or kill a suspect that is not using deadly force against the victim. Stand your ground laws give citizens the legal right to take someone’s life even when deadly force is not the only option. I have a big problem with any legislation that makes it easier for someone, with no training concerning the use of deadly force, to take a human life.
One of the arguments that I often hear is that a firearm is needed for someone to protect themselves. I fully recognize that firearms can be good defensive tools, but they also can have a tendency to give a false sense of protection to the carrier. I would point out a couple of scenarios from my law enforcement career that I believe support my belief that having a weapon available is no guarantee that you won’t be victimized by someone.
Early in my career, I served for almost three years as our Department’s Crime Prevention Officer. One of my duties was working with our local university in their sexual assault prevention programs. As part of my duties, I presented dozens of rape prevention classes to groups throughout the community, primarily sororities and female dorms. I was almost always asked whether it was a good idea to carry some sort of weapon; so I adopted a demonstration that I used in every presentation.
I would find a young lady in the class who was carrying a purse and I would then approach her and give her a canister of pepper spray. I would always say something along the line of, “I’m going to give you an advantage you won’t get in real life. I’m going to come and grab you at some time during the presentation. You need to try to spray me with the pepper spray when I grab you.” I would have her put the pepper spray in her purse and continue with the presentation. I would walk around, asking and answering questions, and presenting my points, all in a manner that tended to lull my “victim” into complacency. At some point during the presentation, I would grab her. Never once did one of the women ever get the pepper spray out of her purse, much less into a position where she could spray me. I would then emphasize that in spite of the fact that my “victim” had been armed, I was able to overcome her defenses through a combination of stealth, speed, and misdirection.
On a more realistic note, during my years as a detective I assisted with the investigation of about nine or ten armed, home invasion robberies. The robberies, with one exception, all targeted the houses of suspected drug dealers. As I’m sure most people are aware, drug dealers tend to have a reputation for being armed. However, when confronted with the speed and violence of a home invasion robbery, none of the victims were able to access any sort of weapon to defend themselves.
This is the area where the rabidly pro-gun forces begin to lose their grip with reality and start to inhabit a Hollywood fantasy land where a good guy with a gun is always able to save the day. Unfortunately, unless you are willing to walk around holding our gun in your hand, you probably won’t be able to access a firearm in time to protect yourself. This is particularly true when you are carrying a concealed handgun. As a detective, I had to qualify twice a year using the same weapon, holster, and clothing that I normally wore on duty. It definitely makes it tougher to draw your weapon and train it on a target when you’re carrying that weapon in a concealed holster.
We also need to be concerned with any legislation that relaxes background checks. In spite of an overwhelming majority of citizens, including a majority of gun owners, being in favor of mandatory background checks, the NRA opposes this common sense safety measure so our Republican legislators move in lockstep and refuse to take any steps to institute universal background checks.
What I find disconcerting about this resistance is that I have spoken with several people who oppose universal background checks. When I have asked them what they specifically bothers them about expanding the use of background checks, no one has ever been able to provide me with a logical answer.
Finally, one aspect of responsible gun ownership that the new legislation does nothing to address is firearms training, or more accurately, the lack of training. As a police officer, I was required to qualify twice a year with my handgun, shotgun, and AR-15. In addition, we had monthly practice shoots and additional training with a computer trainer called the Firearm Training System. The computer would generate random, interactive scenarios that simulated real life situations where a shoot/don’t shoot decision was called for. Even with this level of training, I don’t consider myself a firearms expert by any stretch of the imagination. However, the training I received certainly made me more proficient and certainly enlightened me as to the difficulty and the speed with which life and death decisions must be made.
By contrast, the proposed legislation provides for zero mandatory training. If the law is passed as written, a 14 year old will need more training to operate a moped than to fire a weapon. As a responsible gun owner, I value my rights under the 2nd Amendment. That’s why I find it so disconcerting when legislators, at both the state and national levels, want to reduce an already weak system of background checks and remove common sense restrictions that attempt to keep firearms out of the hands of people who have been adjudicated as mentally ill.
From my experience as a gun owner and a Democratic candidate in a rural district, I think the whole pro-gun/anti-gun issue is overrated. As Democrats, we must accept that the 2nd Amendment is the law of the land and that, like it or not, the current Supreme Court has ruled that gun ownership is not limited to a “well-regulated militia”. For those who don’t like guns, don’t buy one, but remember that extreme anti-gun rhetoric is what the NRA and its minions pick up on and publicize.