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Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds did not rule out — but threw cold water on — the possibility of Iowa taking advantage of federal incentives for states to pass “red flag” laws that allow groups to petition courts to temporarily remove weapons from people deemed a threat to themselves or others.
President Joe Biden this week celebrated the passage and recent signing of a new law considered the most wide-ranging gun violence bill Congress has passed in decades.
The measure, passed after mass shootings including those in Buffalo, N.Y., and Uvalde, Texas, includes funding to help states put in place laws that make it easier for authorities to temporarily prevent a person in crisis who has been adjudged dangerous from accessing firearms, among many other provisions.
Iowa has no extreme risk protection order law where law enforcement, concerned family members or others can seek a court order to temporarily prevent someone deemed as a threat from buying or possessing firearms.
Gun safety advocates say such measures are a proven way to intervene before gun violence — such as a gun suicide or a mass shooting — takes more lives. Some gun rights activists contend the measures instead give courts broad discretion to confiscated firearms without due process.
National polling suggests strong majorities of Americans from across the political spectrum support extreme-risk laws. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have adopted them in the past few years, and social science research suggests that they work, most strikingly in preventing gun suicides, according to PolitiFact.
Reynolds, at a news conference on Tuesday, however, said Illinois’ red flag law failed to prevent a man there with a known pattern of concerning behavior from shooting dozens of people at a July 4 parade in Highland Park, Ill.
“No matter how many laws or rules you have on the books, if somebody has evil in their heart, you can't handle that,” she said.
Lawmakers, lawyers and doctors in Illinois say there may not have been enough public awareness of the state’s red flag law at the time law enforcement came into contact with Robert Crimo III, who police said confessed to the Highland Park shooting, PolitiFact reported.
The recent federal legislation includes money for public awareness campaigns and more training of police.
Reynolds said the issue of gun violence needs to be addressed “holistically,” while preserving lawful gun owners’ right to bear arms under the Second Amendment.
“There's not one single answer,” she said. “ … So we'll take a look at everything, but it's a balance in how we move forward.”
Iowa Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, and House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, did not return messages seeking comment. Republicans hold agenda-setting majorities in the Iowa Legislature.
It’s unclear how much federal grant money would be available to Iowa under the new federal law. Iowa received more than $2.6 million in Department of Justice assistance grants last fiscal year, and the gun safety bill increases funding levels.
States would receive funding based on an existing formula, and have flexibility to use the funds to implement extreme risk protection order programs, drug courts and other crisis intervention programs. States that choose to use grant funding for red flag laws must comply with due process requirements, such as the right to an in-person hearing and an unbiased adjudicator.
Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks, a Democrat, said such laws could be a vital tool to keep law enforcement safe and blunt a rise in gun violence nationwide.
Maybanks pointed to a recent incident a few months ago where a man in Marion, “who was undergoing a pretty significant mental health crisis to which his family and friends were aware,” engaged in a shootout with police. Fortunately, no one was injured, Maybanks said.
“And there wasn't any ability to enter into his residence or to receive a court order … to remove firearms that his family and associates knew that he possessed,” he said. “And so unfortunately, what transpired was he had an alleged breakdown and ended up actually using the firearm to shoot out of his house, out various portions of his house from various angles, while law enforcement was on the scene. They had to defuse that situation.”
The man was arrested and charged with crimes stemming from the shooting.
“An extreme risk protective order … would have allowed the family members to preemptively take those firearms out of their loved one’s possession who's undergoing a mental health crisis and they fear that he might hurt himself or others,” Maybanks said.
Depending on the state, petitioners under such laws must show “probable cause” or “clear and convincing” evidence to establish that the gun owner presents a safety risk.
“But essentially what it comes down to is there are certain identifiable people in the community, based on reports by their loved ones, associates or law enforcement, that present an immediate risk to themselves or to others,” Maybanks said. “And what we see are these folks go beyond the generalized risk of dangerous hate behavior because they refer to their firearms or are known to carry their firearms or use them more frequently.
“And therefore, we have not only a chance to prevent violence, but specifically to prevent gun violence from occurring.”
While an extreme-risk law would not solve domestic violence or prevent people from suicide, such protection orders could help keep guns out of the hands of abusive partners and reduce gun violence and domestic violence in some situations, said Laura Hessburg, public policy director at Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Two-thirds of women killed by an intimate partner in the United States are killed with a gun, according to an analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data by Everytown for Gun Safety.
“And access to a gun makes it five times more likely that an abusive partner will kill his female victim,” Hessburg said. "... The bottom line for us is that guns and domestic violence are obviously a lethal combination. We are not opposed to gun ownership, rights, etc. But we are frustrated by constant pressure to further expand gun rights and opposition to common-sense gun laws that enhance individual and public safety.“
Matt Sinovic, executive director of the liberal advocacy group Progress Iowa, said he’s optimistic that Iowa can pass red flag laws, despite the Republican-controlled Legislature passing a number of laws loosening gun regulations in recent years.
“I think it’s something that should be pushed for, and we should try to get done, that the state should do, but it certainly would be an uphill battle,” Sinovic said.
Erin Murphy and Caleb McCullough of The Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau contributed to this report.
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