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Gun violence survivors encourage Iowans vote ‘no’ on gun amendment
CEDAR RAPIDS — Leah Schneider of Cedar Rapids was enjoying the last day and last concert of a three-day music festival on the Las Vegas Strip on Oct. 1, 2017, when she heard three pops of gunfire.
It would be followed by 10 minutes of gunfire that would ring out high above the crowd, as a gunman fired more than 1,000 rounds from his 32nd-floor suite in the Mandalay Bay hotel. Fifty-eight people were killed and over 850 injured among a crowd of 22,000.
“As I ran from what I thought were many shooters in the crowd, I was convinced I was going to be shot in the back,” Schneider said.
Three years later, almost to the day, Schneider again found herself under siege by gunfire, this time inside the Cedar River Landing bar when a gunman fired at another individual inside.
Since the Route 91 Harvest Festival, everywhere Schneider goes she said she is hyper-aware of her surroundings, making sure to locate and mark all exits and formulate an escape plan in her head.
“But I was blocked and all I could do was crouch down and pray that they would leave,” she said. “I watched the corner of the bar where I was crouched, waiting for shoes and a gun to point in my direction, convinced that this time I wouldn’t be so lucky.”
Thankfully, the shooter did leave and Schneider was unharmed. But, “the sounds” of gunfire were deafening, “and the mark from another near-miss deepened my trauma, but also deepened my resolve to try and help others not go through this,” Schneider said.
Schneider was joined Wednesday by fellow gun violence survivor Kayla Panos-Blackcloud as part of an event put on by Iowans for Responsible Gun Laws. Both survivors urged Iowans to vote “no” on a gun rights amendment on the ballot Nov. 8 they say, if passed, would negatively impact them and other victims of gun violence.
Panos-Blackcloud was in a car at a smoke shop near Kirkwood Community College when a gunman shot her in the face on May 18, 2018, killed two of her friends and injured another.
“I heard one of my best friends scream my name while watching me get shot in the face,” Panos-Blackcloud said. “And them me watching him get shot, not knowing who would be taking their last breath.”
Iowa voters will be asked to add language to the Iowa Constitution that states it is a “fundamental individual right“ to keep and bear arms, and that any restraint on that right is invalid unless it meets the stringent demands of “strict scrutiny” in court.
"I say to you, how many others have to die before lawmakers take control of our safety and protect of children, victims in the community in Iowa?“ Panos-Blackcloud asked. ”I’m asking Iowans to turn your ballot over and vote ‘no’ on Public Measure #1.“
Gun-safety advocates say the "strict scrutiny" language goes beyond protections contained in the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment, and would make it nearly impossible to enforce new gun safety measures that many Iowans support — like strengthened background checks or extreme risk protection orders, commonly known as "red flag" laws — and could weaken or lead to courts to overturn existing gun laws.
The Iowa Firearms Coalition, a gun-rights advocacy group, and supporters of the amendment contend its serves as an important firewall to protect Iowans’ fundamental right to keep and bear arms to protect themselves.
“These claims that more people will die because Iowa is codifying a fundamental right guaranteed by our creator to keep and bear arms, in my opinion, is ridiculous,” coalition chair John McLaughlin told The Gazette. “We’re trying to keep freedom rather than taking freedom away from sober, sane, moral, prudent people.”
McLaughlin said he’s taught firearms safety classes since 2007.
“I feel horrible when there’s a victim of a crime with a firearm, and I dedicated my life to help keep people safe by training them on how to safely and properly use a firearm,” he said. “This is about freedom and folks being able to defend themselves on their worst day. … We want this pushed to the highest level of judicial review. A fundamental right should not be something that can easily be taken away by a lower court judge.”
If the amendment is approved by voters, Iowa would join three states that have passed “strict scrutiny” gun rights amendments — Alabama, Louisiana and Missouri — which are among the five states with the highest rates of gun deaths in the United States, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.
Christine Lehman-Engledow, lead for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America in Cedar Rapids, noted after strict scrutiny amendments were adopted in Louisiana and Missouri, a handful of people challenged laws in those states that prohibit felons and domestic abusers from possessing firearms. In Louisiana, after strict scrutiny passed, a convicted domestic abuser challenged the constitutionality of a state law prohibiting possession of a firearm by people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence crimes.
“This extreme approach would invite frivolous litigation, undermine decades of case law in the state courts and put in jeopardy many moderate, common-sense gun laws,” Lehman-Engledow said, such as prohibiting felons and domestic abusers from possessing firearms, keeping gun out of schools and banning the sale of assault-style weapons.
Mike Wyrick with Amnesty International of Iowa, part of a coalition of nearly three dozen statewide organizations that make up Iowans for Responsible Gun Laws, called the amendment “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” Wyrick, a gun owner, said the coalition is not against gun ownership.
“We are simply against Public Measure #1, because it will tip the balance of justice away from public safety in a way that will make Iowa a more dangerous place to live,” he said.
Schneider argued the “strict scrutiny” language “stops any choice we have going forward” to create safer communities.
“They call this the Freedom Amendment,” she said. “But I can tell you when you think you’re going to die as you’re being shot, or dealing with the effects of PTSD daily or other ramifications of gun violence, this is the furthest thing from feeling free.”
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