It is interesting that Dr. Albert Cram (“Expanding gun rights will not lead to more deaths,” March 26) chose a 75 year-old defending against burglary as an example of why we need a Stand Your Ground law. In fact, a 75 year-old white Iowan is statistically far more likely to commit suicide by gun than shoot an intruder. We need to examine some facts before making a decision about inviting Stand Your Ground into our state.
Iowa Code 704.1 has always allowed an individual to protect his/her property or person from invasion. It reads, “Reasonable force, including deadly force, may be used even if an alternative course of action is available if the alternative entails a risk to life or safety, or the life or safety of a third party, or requires one to abandon or retreat from one’s dwelling or place of business or employment.”
The problem with Stand Your Ground is that it makes prosecution of the shooter much more difficult. In 2012, the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys stated such laws “give the killer immunity from prosecution. This blanket immunity is greater than the legal protections given to police officers who are involved in a shooting in the line of duty.”
Those who feel that such laws in other states have not significantly impacted death rates should look at Florida, which passed the first Stand Your Ground law in 2005. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2016 found that in Florida, after passage of this law, monthly gun homicides increased 31 percent as compared to non-Stand Your Ground states, which saw no change in homicide rates over the same time period. In fact, Florida had noted a slight decline in homicides before the law was enacted.
There was much publicity surrounding the use of a Stand Your Ground defense in the 2015 homicide of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager, by George Zimmerman, a white neighborhood watchman who had been told by police to stand down. Even though the youth was unarmed and there was never clear evidence that Trayvon threatened George Zimmerman, the latter was acquitted of second-degree murder. He has since been charged more than once for aggravated assault with a gun.
As Cram noted, in Iowa George Zimmerman would have been barred from buying a gun from a licensed dealer, due to his prior charges for assaulting a police officer while intoxicated and domestic violence against his fiancé. However, 40 percent of gun sales are not through a licensed dealer and, therefore, involve no background check. This would still allow someone with his violent record to purchase a gun, whether online, from a friend or from a stranger because only licensed sales require a background check.
Cram also states “blaming the gun is like blaming the car in a drunken-driving fatality.” Both modes of operating a potentially lethal device require licensure. The major difference is that Iowa requires hands-on training to obtain a driver’s license. For gun licensure though, one may take a 65-minute online course which requires no in-person training or demonstration of ability to fire a gun safely.
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Per National Physicians Alliance data, women in the United States are murdered nine times more often by intimate partners than they are by strangers. In fact, when compared to 22 other wealthy nations, the United States accounted for 90 percent of women’s firearm deaths, 91 percent of children under age fourteen.
What Iowa lacks is a law that allows seizure of firearms from those charged with domestic abuse; we request voluntary surrender of weapons. It would seem better to allow local law enforcement to have more say in removing weapons or preventing their licensure than arming women or children to defend themselves. It is worth analyzing instances in which an individual killed in self-defense. In 2012, the Violence Policy Center noted there were 259 such cases in the United States. That same year, there were 8342 gun homicides and 20,666 firearm suicides.
We need to ask ourselves what is lacking in our current law regarding protection of property and person. We should be concerned about the perception that we all need to be armed against assailants when in fact, older Iowa men are more likely to die by a firearm suicide and women at the hands of their partners. We should question enactment of laws that codify murder of minorities and women in the name of self-defense.
• Dr. Mary Kemen of Cedar Rapids is an advisory board member for Iowans for Gun Safety and a member of the Izaak Walton League, an organization which promotes gun safety.