Groups pushing gun control target Cedar Rapids lawmaker Ken Rizer

But Rizer claims they are 'making stuff up'

File photo: State Rep. Ken Rizer speaks to the Cedar Rapids Daybreak Rotary on Friday, Nov. 20, 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
File photo: State Rep. Ken Rizer speaks to the Cedar Rapids Daybreak Rotary on Friday, Nov. 20, 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — National groups pushing for more gun regulation hope to make an example of a Cedar Rapids legislator.

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Everytown for Gun Safety are targeting first-term Rep. Ken Rizer, R-Cedar Rapids, because he supported a change in Iowa law they say would repeal background checks for private gun purchases. The first of four fliers Everytown plans to send House District 68 residents went in the mail Thursday.

“There have been a lot of lawmakers who have sided with the gun lobby over the safety and security of Iowa families,” Amber Gustafson of Ankeny, president of the Iowa chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said Wednesday. “Ken’s one of them. He has consistently stood in the path of good gun legislation and has consistently supported things to make us markedly less safe.”

Citing her organization’s polling, Gustafson, a gun owner herself, said 87 percent of Iowans support “better” gun laws

Rizer calls the campaign a “baseless attack by an out-of-state, special interest group.” Funding for Everytown comes from a $50 million commitment from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Bloomberg-backed groups, Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action, which was founded after the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

The group’s members say their grassroots-style mailing campaign is modeled after successful efforts by the National Rifle Association. Officials declined to say how much they are spending on the mailers, but an Iowa-based campaign consultant estimated the mailers would cost in the $10,000 to $15,000 range.

“I can’t help but say ‘There they go making stuff up,’ ” Rizer said, explaining that Moms and Everytown don’t seem to understand the legislation they reference in their mailers. They don’t identify specific legislation, but mention background checks, domestic abusers and gun shows. The bill addressing those issues was House File 527.

“The irony,” Rizer said, “is that the bill they refer to would have strengthened Iowa’s gun laws.” It made straw purchases of guns — someone buying a gun for a person who cannot legally buy a gun — a Class D felony and allowed off-duty police to carry their weapons on school property, he said.

“It was bipartisan. Seventy-five members of the House voted for it so you know a big chunk of Democrats supported it,” Rizer added.

Eighteen of 43 House Democrats voted for the bill, which did not win Senate approval.

Rizer said he never hears about issues related to gun safety when he’s knocking on doors in his district that includes Marion, Bertram and Ely. Voters mention education, Medicaid managed care and taxes, “but no one brings up background checks.”

Rizer assumes he is being targeted not because of his stance on gun safety issues, but because House 68 is a “purple” district and this is his first re-election campaign. He thinks his opponents may see him as an attractive target in an attempt to elect a Democrat. In 2014, Rizer defeated Democratic Rep. Daniel Lundby, who defeated Republican Rep. Nick Wagner in 2012.

Rizer is not the groups’ only target, Gustafson said. “There are a slew of incumbents and challengers getting the support of Moms. They want to run on this and win.”

She rejected Rizer’s claim that Moms and Everytown are working on behalf of his opponent, Cedar Rapids Democrat Molly Donahue.

“We honestly have no idea where she stands” on gun legislation, Gustafson said. There’s no mention of guns on Donahue’s campaign website and she hasn’t raised the issue while campaigning.

“It’s possible she agrees with (Rizer),” Gustafson said, “but we want to make sure that Ken Rizer and the rest of the Iowa Legislature know that voting and standing for these types of laws is politically costly.”

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