Amber Gustafson is a graduate student at Drake University, an Ankeny mom of three, and a gun safety advocate. -promoted by Laura Belin
Earlier this week, the Iowa Senate passed House File 756, a bill that would make handgun carry permits and background checks on unlicensed sales optional for residents of the state.
Having cleared the Iowa House on March 17, the bill now moves to Governor Kim Reynolds' desk. At this writing, she has not signed it.
Proponents of the legislation, including many Republican lawmakers, have claimed removing mandatory permits will result in more background checks. However, research has shown states that remove their handgun permitting systems see an increase in gun deaths.
WHAT THE BILL WOULD CHANGE
At issue is the process by which buyers acquire handguns from private sellers. Currently a buyer must present a valid permit to the seller at the time of sale. Iowa handgun permits are good for five years and require a background check and a safety training class to obtain.
HF 756 would allow private handgun sales to proceed without that permit or its requisite background check and safety training, creating a loophole through which convicted felons, domestic abusers, and those adjudicated mentally ill would be able to buy guns and use them the same day.
Opponents point to research that shows state-issued permits and their corresponding background checks are among our most effective tools for keeping guns out of the hands of prohibited purchasers.
The U.S. Supreme Court deemed background checks constitutional in 2008, and conservative Justice Antonin Scalia (a firearms enthusiast) clarified that the Second Amendment is not an unlimited right.
Despite a recent poll indicating 86 percent of Iowans (and 83 percent of Republicans) support mandatory background checks on all gun sales, HF 756 passed on party-line votes, with support from out-of-state gun groups. The Iowa Firearms Coalition is affiliated with the National Rifle Association, now under investigation for defrauding donors by using contributions to pay for luxury clothing and lavish vacations for president Wayne LaPierre and other board members. Facing insolvency, the NRA declared bankruptcy earlier this year.
Signing this bill would appear to be a political gamble for a governor who was narrowly elected in 2018 and did not carry Iowa’s most populous counties. Reynolds has aligned herself with the NRA, accepting their endorsement during her last campaign. But that organization's favorability numbers have fallen precipitously over the last several years. The NRA represents just a fraction of the country’s estimated 30 million gun owners.
Reynolds may be struggling to decide whether to sign this controversial legislation. While most of the conversations about the bill center on the dismantling of the handgun permit system and the resulting impact on background checks, I’ve compiled a few other reasons Reynolds should veto the bill, grounded in lesser-known problems with the legislation and the governor's own track record.
LAW ENFORCEMENT GROUPS DO NOT SUPPORT THIS BILL
No Iowa law enforcement groups have endorsed HF 756. In fact, only four entities registered in favor of the bill:
- Iowa Firearms Coalition - the Iowa NRA affiliate;
- Iowa Gun Owners - the organization led by controversial gun extremist, accused scam artist and far right provocateur Aaron Dorr;
- the Iowa Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, which has been identified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center;
- DAV, an organization supporting disabled American veterans.
No law enforcement organizations registered for the bill, and the Iowa Police Chief Association has formally declared their opposition.
Polk County Sheriff Kevin Schneider, who serves the state's most populous county and has more than thirty years of experience in law enforcement, wrote in a Facebook post earlier this month,
It's bad enough that my Deputies and law enforcement officers across the country face the threat of risky individuals having guns concealed or not. In 2020, 48 brave officers lost their lives in the line of duty to gun violence. But if this law passes, people will now have access to guns with the same convenience as buying a bottle of water - no questions asked.
Multiple faith groups and organizations that support public schools have also registered against the bill.
Reynolds has voiced her support for law enforcement and concerns for their safety. Early this year, she introduced her controversial “Back the Blue” bill, which opponents say would shield law enforcement from accountability. Research has found that “for states with the strongest firearm laws, the incidence rate of fatal police shootings was more than 50% lower than for states with the weakest firearm laws.”
Bottom line: If Reynolds wants to support public safety, she should veto this bill, which would make law enforcement officers' work more dangerous.
LOADED FIREARMS AT KINDERGARTEN CLASS PARTIES AND HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL GAMES
Tucked away on page 6 of this bill, an extremely concerning section would allow off-duty police officers to bring loaded firearms onto school property, outside their regular duties as law enforcement. Granted, law enforcement officers are trained and qualified to handle firearms better than nearly anyone else. Still, such broad and vague language could allow a parent who works in law enforcement to bring a loaded firearm to:
• A parent-teacher conference
• An Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) meeting
• A school board meeting
• A kindergarten class party
• A high school basketball game
• A show choir performance
• A sports practice
• A “lunch visit” in an elementary cafeteria
Guns do not belong in classrooms, on athletics fields, or at school events, regardless of who is carrying them. Reynolds should be aware of many school gun mishaps, like the Utah teacher who unintentionally discharged her firearm while she was using the kindergarten restroom and shot the toilet out from under her own posterior, severely injuring herself in the process.
While members of law enforcement are trained and rigorously background checked, they are not immune from unintentional discharges that have both killed and severely injured innocent bystanders.
The governor could consider talking with her daughters (who are teachers) to determine their level of comfort in having a disciplinary discussion about a student with parent armed with a 9mm Glock, law enforcement or not.
We also know that the presence of law enforcement is not a deterrent for mass/school shootings, nor are law enforcement officers always able to stop a mass shooting in progress--as we saw so tragically at the King Soopers grocery store shooting in Boulder, Colorado this week.
Concerns about the vagueness of what would be permitted under this bill prompted Rural School Advocates, the Urban School Network, and the Iowa Association of School Boards to register against it.
Bottom line: Guns do not belong in Iowa classrooms or elsewhere on public school property. The risks of unintentional shootings and intimidation far outweigh any marginal benefits there might be in an active shooter situation.
REYNOLDS HAS CONSISTENTLY SUPPORTED BACKGROUND CHECKS AND IOWA'S PERMITTING SYSTEM
Kim Reynolds has been one of our state’s most vocal Republicans in support of background checks and the current permitting system.
After the February 2018 shootings at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the Des Moines Register reported, “When asked the role of guns in such incidents, Reynolds said Iowa has 'reasonable and responsible gun laws on the books,' adding she strongly believes a state system that includes gun permits should remain in place.”
But she also suggested the federal government has a role in addressing mass shootings.
"They need to look at what they can do; strengthening background checks," Reynolds said. "A big piece of this discussion lays with them, and so they need to take the responsibility to do some things. […]."
In a different public appearance in 2018, Reynolds was asked directly if she supported background checks and the handgun permitting system. Her answer was unequivocal: "I support that." Her response drew applause from the Iowans in the room.
In 2019, Reynolds again expressed support for the Iowa permitting system, calling it “good policy” and expressing that she was proud to have voted for that process as a member of the Iowa Senate in 2010. She added was considering applying for a handgun permit herself.
Bottom line: Signing this bill would be a departure for Iowa’s first female governor, signaling an extreme and unjustified change from her previously stated position.
Iowans opposed to the bill are encouraged to contact our governor and ask her to veto HF 756. Call 515-281-5211 to register an opinion on the bill.
Top image: Screenshot from Governor Kim Reynolds' March 24 news conference, where she said she was considering signing the gun bill.