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Battle lines drawn for firearms debate in Iowa Legislature

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DES MOINES — In anticipation of an Iowa House debate today on firearms legislation, Iowans opposed to greater access to guns delivered petitions to representatives. Those petitions ask legislators to reject a proposal that would allow children younger than 14 to handle handguns.

House File 2281 would allow a parent to let their child handle handguns and ammunition. Children 14 and older presently may handle handguns only under a parent or guardian’s supervision.

“It is simply insane to allows children of any age to handle a lethal weapon because their brains are not sufficiently developed yet to grasp the responsibility of handling a gun,” according to Kathy Lowenberg of Iowa City, who was one of 564 Iowans to sign a petition opposing HF 2281, formerly HF 2042.

The petition was delivered Monday to House members by Iowans for Gun Safety.

“The need to regulate guns is paramount,” said Jeremy Brigham of Cedar Rapids, executive director of the group. “How can we be safer in a society where there are as many guns as people?”

He spoke at Moral Monday, a coalition of progressive Iowa organizations that meet weekly at the Statehouse. The measure would be a retreat from Iowa’s “pretty good” gun laws as measured by the Law Center for the Prevention of Gun Violence, Brigham said. It gave Iowa a C- and said its gun laws rank as 15th best.

HF 2281 floor manager, Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley and floor manager for the proposal, said the measure advances parental and constitutional rights. It’s also about safety, he said.

“Parents should be able to make a decision when their child is ready to learn how to handle a handgun safety,” Windschitl said.

He pointed out that present law allows a child younger than 14 can handle a long gun — a shotgun or rifle.

However, Rep. Jo Oldson, D-Des Moines, told the Moral Monday gathering that neither parental rights nor gun rights are absolute.

“We set all sorts of minimum ages in the law” for driving and drinking, for example, she said.

Proposals on today’s debate calendar also include one to make the permit to carry that is issued by county sheriffs uniform. That makes sense to Brigham. Rep. Marti Anderson, D-Des Moines agreed that would make it easier for law enforcement to recognize permits and would streamline the process for obtaining and renewing permits.

However, another section of the proposal would make permits confidential records with extremely limited public access. Brigham insisted the records should be public.

Another proposal up for debate today is HF 2283 that would allow snowmobile and ATV operators to carry loaded firearms, whether concealed or not.

“What a crazy thing,” Brigham said, citing safety concerns about guns accidentally discharging.

Windschitl called the change “common sense” because current law allows loaded weapons to be transported on all other “means of conveyance” including pickups, motorcycles and tractors.

Oldson and Windschitl also disagreed on HF 2279 that would allow Iowa gun owners to use suppressors. It’s often promoted as hearing safety legislation, but Oldson said the uses would be broader than shooting ranges and sports shooting.

“It’s very concerning from the standpoint in terms of scenarios you can picture in your head,” she said.

Iowans would have to meet federal requirements, including a background check, required of gun owners in 41 others states, Windschitl said. Current hunting regulations don’t prohibit the use of suppressors while hunting and include provisions for suppressors in some urban deer hunting situations, he said.

The Senate approved House-passed suppressor legislation last year, but the amended version did not clear the House.

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