DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds told reporters Monday that Iowa has “reasonable and responsible” gun laws on the books but needs to take a “holistic” approach to addressing mental health needs and engaging citizens to report suspicious threats in the wake of last week’s mass shooting in Florida.
Reynolds opened her weekly news conference by offering “sympathies and prayers to all those impacted” by Wednesday’s fatal shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
She then used the venue to ask parents, students, school employees and all Iowans to “be especially vigilant” for signs of potential violence and to report them to school officials or law enforcement.
“All Iowans need to be on the lookout for suspicious behavior whether it’s related to terrorist activities or other types of mass violence,” said Reynolds in announcing an expanded federal, state, local and private partnership to promote a campaign created in 2016 to report suspicious behavior to authorities.
“While there’s no specific terror threat to Iowa, intelligence reports show that threats exist in all 50 states,” the governor said. “We need to do what we can and we need to speak up. It’s doesn’t mean that we should stop living our lives or live in fear, but we do need to pay attention. We all have a role to play in safety.”
In the case of the Florida shooting, tipsters alerted the FBI twice in six months about Nikolas Cruz, the accused gunman. In the first instance, the agency said it was not able to track down a person by that name from a social media post that gave no clue to that persons’s whereabouts. In a more recent tip with more details, the FBI has acknowledged it did not adhere to its own protocols in following up.
Roxann Ryan, commissioner of the Iowa Department of Public Safety, said Monday that oftentimes it emerges there were warning signs before such a terrible event but “they just were not shared with the appropriate people at the appropriate time.”
The Iowa alert system is designed to avoid that.
“Law enforcement can only take action when they know about a problem, so we want to hear about those suspicious behaviors that people notice within their communities,” Ryan said, even if it requires reporting the activities of a family member or friend.
She said suspicious activities would include acquiring weapons, ammunition, materials and clothing, surveilling an area, doing test runs or identifying potential victims for the purposes of committing a crime.
Asked if there were any changes in gun laws or regulations that should be considered in light of the Florida mass shooting, the governor declined to speculate, while noting she is a supporter of Second Amendment gun rights.
But she added “the federal government has a role to play in this.”
“They need to look at what they can do, strengthening background checks,” said Reynolds, an Osceola Republican. “A big piece of this discussion lies with them and so they need to take the responsibility to do some things. As a state, we’ll continue to take a look and review. But we need to take a look at everything. We can’t take a look at one thing in isolation. We have to look at everything because it includes everything.”
Reynolds said she supports proposals to reform the state’s mental-health system to beef up services to help identify early warning signs, but she declined to say whether she supports proposals to arm educators or let anyone with a concealed-weapons permit carry a gun on school grounds when picking up or dropping off passengers.
She did say she “felt very strongly that we should keep” Iowa’s current gun-permitting arrangement in place in opposing “constitutional carry” legislation that failed to clear a Senate committee last week.
Senate File 2106 would have removed the general prohibition on carrying weapons without a permit as well as repealing the duty to carry a permit along with making other changes.
Ironically, the governor’s news conference was cut short when the Statehouse alarm system sounded, prompting a brief evacuation. Officials said sensors were triggered in the Capitol cafeteria and the all-clear was given a few minutes later.
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