Staff Editorial

Governing guns: States must lead where feds failed

Guns from cases that are no longer active wait to be sorted for destruction, addition to the DCI's permanent reference collection, donation to law enforcement agencies or, in the case of long guns, sale at auction by the DNR at the DCI's State Crime Laboratory in Ankeny. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Guns from cases that are no longer active wait to be sorted for destruction, addition to the DCI's permanent reference collection, donation to law enforcement agencies or, in the case of long guns, sale at auction by the DNR at the DCI's State Crime Laboratory in Ankeny. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

It’s time for America’s governors to govern.

Americans have been consumed by yet another national debate over gun violence, following the killing of 17 people at a Florida high school last month. Thousands of us have voiced our concerns to our representatives in Congress, but Republicans controlling the federal government have shown little appetite for substantive reforms.

Instead, the task will fall to our state governments. We’re hopeful the latest gun debate could finally lead to some meaningful changes, however incremental they may be.

The nation’s governors met in Washington, D.C., last week as part of a regularly scheduled National Governors Association meeting. A politically diverse set of state leaders used the opportunity to call for expanding gun safety policies.

Gov. Kim Reynolds said during a television interview last week that states should take a “holistic perspective” in responding to gun violence.

“We need to strengthen the laws that are on the books, we need to do a better job on background checks, we need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to keep firearms out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them, whether they have mental illness or domestic abuse,” Reynolds said during an interview on “CBS This Morning.”

We are optimistic Reynolds and other state policymakers are prepared to work out a bipartisan deal aimed at protecting Iowans from bad guys with guns.

No policy will ever eliminate violence altogether, yet that is no justification for total inaction. There are common-sense policy proposals that can mitigate some gun violence, while also preserving Americans’ civil liberties.

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For starters, the Iowa Legislature should consider accessories that can make semi-automatic weapons more deadly, like the bump stock reportedly used in a mass shooting outside a Las Vegas hotel last October.

Earlier this year, Massachusetts became the first state to ban the possession of such devices. While those items have been used in only a small number of deaths, they also serve no compelling purpose for average American gun owners, and even some ardent enthusiasts are open to banning them.

Iowa also should consider increasing the age to purchase firearms. Current law limits handguns and handgun ammunition to Iowans 21 years or older, but 18-year-olds can purchase long guns, like the semi-automatic rifle used by the teen shooter in Florida last month.

Even the Republican-controlled Legislature in Florida, which has been resistant to nearly all other new gun control measures, is advancing a bill to raise the legal age for purchasing long guns.

And Iowa ought to have a process for blocking gun possession from those who pose a legitimate and verifiable threat to public safety. So-called “red flag” laws are on the books in a few other states, allowing the courts to revoke gun rights from individuals in extreme cases.

We feel these measures are the least we can do to reduce the chances that Iowa will see a massacre like the ones we have seen play out in far too many other states. There may be even more common ground in the future, but we must start somewhere.

However, we also are deeply skeptical about some of the policy ideas coming out of the gun control debate.

For example, some are pushing for more guns inside our schools, either by arming teachers or by hiring additional security personnel. That’s an idea Reynolds weighed in on last week with cautious approval.

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“We need to make sure we have mental health counselors in our schools. We need to make sure we have, possibly, a law enforcement security guard in each one of the schools,” Reynolds said during the CBS interview.

While there may be some scenarios where armed school security makes sense, we are highly doubtful it would be the right fit for many Iowa schools. In practice, those guns — held by either teachers or trained law enforcement professionals — are much more likely to be used accidentally or negligently against students.

And while we are supportive of mental health counselors in schools, it’s unrealistic given the current state of education funding. If that’s an earnest proposal, Reynolds should explain how the state will help schools pay for it.

We also are wary of any proposal to impose a blanket firearm ban on people living with mental illness. That would deprive millions of peaceful Americans of due process and their Second Amendment rights. Additionally, a national mental health database would be a major infringement on Americans’ privacy, and would turn back progress we’ve made on destigmatizing mental illness.

Iowans no longer can wait for the federal government to take action in response to gun violence. This is an opportunity for state government leaders to step up and get to work.

• Comments: (319) 389-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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