Staff Columnist

No political mandate for more gun control in Iowa

Iowa Legislature has repeatedly expanded gun rights over the past decade

Demonstrators brave the snow to protest gun violence as part of the nationwide March for Our Lives on Saturday, March 24, 2018, in front of the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines. (Rod Boshart/The Gazette)
Demonstrators brave the snow to protest gun violence as part of the nationwide March for Our Lives on Saturday, March 24, 2018, in front of the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines. (Rod Boshart/The Gazette)

Iowans have staged highly visible demonstrations in support of more gun control in recent months, but that has not led to a political groundswell for policy change, according to a new poll.

Survey data released last week by researchers at Morningside College in Sioux City show Iowans are evenly split on the need for tougher gun laws in a state with more guns than most other states, but fewer gun fatalities than average.

A slim plurality of voters said Iowa’s gun laws should be made more strict, 42 percent, followed by 41 percent who said the laws should be kept the same, and 12 percent who said the laws should be less strict, according to the Morningside poll. Republicans were more likely to favor keeping the laws the same, while Democrats tended to favor stricter laws.

Analysts surveyed 994 Iowa adults via telephone, with a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points. The poll was conducted between May 2 and May 12. That was about three months after a school shooting in Parkland, Florida left 17 people dead, but before the Sante Fe, Texas school shooting which left 10 people dead.

The Morningside poll comes a year after the Iowa Legislature passed what critics and advocates alike called one of the most expansive pieces of pro-gun legislation in Iowa’s history.

Among other things, House File 517, signed last summer by former Gov. Terry Branstad, expanded “stand your ground” protections for those involved in a fatal shooting. The bill passed the Iowa House and Senate with mostly Republican votes.

This year in Des Moines, the Legislature turned down several gun bills, including legislation to allow permit-holders to carry firearms on school grounds and legislation to restore felons’ gun rights. Lawmakers did pass a resolution to add the right to bear arms in the Iowa Constitution, which would need approval from another legislative session and Iowa voters.

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Half the respondents in the new Morningside College poll said there are firearms present in their household. The data show those without firearms are more likely to call for more gun control.

Politics is local, so it’s no surprise there is no political mandate in Iowa for more gun laws. Iowa’s firearm death rate was the 12th lowest among all states in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And yet about 34 percent of Iowa adults own firearms, according to figures published in 2015 in the Injury Prevention journal, putting Iowa in the top half among states, and above the national rate of 29 percent.

Even while a sizable portion of Iowans support more gun control laws, it doesn’t appear to be a top issue for many voters. Only 1 percent of poll respondents in the Morningside poll said gun violence is the most important problem facing Iowa, putting the issue on the same level as drug use and marijuana policy. The most common responses were budget and taxes, education, employment, and health care.

Critics’ most alarming warnings about expanded firearm rights in Iowa do not appear to be coming to fruition, and most Iowans are not demanding to scale back those rights, for now at least.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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