116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
By J. T. Rushing, correspondent
WASHINGTON - Despite more than a half-century of teaching experience between them, neither Dave Loebsack nor his wife, Terry, ever felt the horror of seeing an armed gunman burst into their classroom.
The Eastern Iowa congressman would be the first to tell you that times have changed. Loebsack was a professor at Cornell College for 24 years while his wife taught second-grade classes in nearby Mount Vernon for more than 30 years.
“Throughout that time many things have changed, but one thing has remained the same: We must do everything we can to keep students safe,” Loebsack told The Gazette. “The tragedy that happened at Sandy Hook brought that home for everyone.”
The massacre in December at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children and six adults dead, was only one in a recent spate of mass murders across the country, including the well-publicized shootings in Virginia, Wisconsin and Colorado, among others. Members of both parties in Congress called the December shootings a game-changer, with even some pro-gun Republicans openly talking of embracing reasonable limits such as expanding background checks or restricting the size and availability of assault weapons. Indeed, last week, the Senate took the first small step toward doing that, by passing a procedural motion to take up a bill expanding background checks beyond required commercial sales to gun shows and Internet sales.
But congressional appetite for doing anything else clearly has waned in the past five months, despite polls showing most Americans support at least some limits on guns, and most Republicans have reverted to opposing against any gun control legislation. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, for example, spoke openly in December of supporting some type of gun controls, but last week reverted to his traditional stance and voted to block the Senate bill to expand background checks, saying it would lead to a national registration system.
It is that type of reversion back to traditional views, even in the midst of the increasing violence, that worries Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa.
“The problem with every issue in America today is that we seem to have very short memories,” Braley said. “And that's why if you watch the nightly news, we bounce from topic to topic, from crisis to crisis, from tragedy to tragedy. This is such a deep problem in our country that we can't afford to let our inattention deprive us of the opportunity address it in a meaningful way. Too much is at stake.”
What hasn't changed is the voting records of Iowa's congressional delegation on gun control issues. Over the past decade, on 18 specific votes - eight in the House, 10 in the Senate - Iowa's Democrats have almost always supported firearms limits, which the state's congressional Republicans have opposed. The voting records seem to prove the cliché that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Even in the past few years, with the wave of mass shootings across the country, the Iowa delegation's voting records haven't budged.
Since 2004, Braley and Loebsack in the House consistently have opposed federalizing concealed-carry laws, supported states' rights over universal gun rights, and voted to protect the District of Columbia's gun control laws. In 2009, Loebsack also opposed allowing guns in national parks, an issue on which Braley did not vote.
Meanwhile, the state's two current House Republicans, Steve King and Tom Latham, voted almost the exact opposite on all of those issues. Between 2004 and 2006, before Braley and Loebsack were in office, King and Latham also voted to ban the confiscation of guns in disaster zones, supported lawsuit immunity for gun manufacturers, and voted to repeal the District of Columbia's gun control laws. There is only one exception - in 2011, King and Latham split on whether to support a national set of laws governing concealed weapons, or a state's right to make its own gun laws. Latham voted for the federal idea, while King supported states' rights.
The only gun issue on which all four of Iowa's House members agreed was whether to allow Americans who file bankruptcy to exempt up to three firearms worth $1,500 or less from creditors' claims.
All four representatives voted yes.
In the Senate since 2004, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, has voted to support the nomination of a federal appellate judge who was opposed by the NRA; supported states' rights over federal gun rights; opposed allowing guns in national parks; supported the District of Columbia's gun control laws; supported the confiscation of guns in disaster zones; opposed lawsuit immunity for gun manufacturers; supported renewing the 1994 assault weapons ban in 2004; supported background checks for gun show sales and supported a ban on armor-piercing bullets.
“I have long supported common-sense gun safety measures to protect our citizens and our communities,” Harkin said. “The recent events of mass violence in Colorado, Connecticut, Arizona, and the daily shootings that occur in cities across the country only reinforce this belief.”
Harkin's colleague, Grassley, voted the exact opposite on all nine of those votes. The only issue on which he and Harkin agreed was in 2011, when the senators voted to include firearms records in property searches conducted under the federal Patriot Act. The Senate at the time was considering whether firearms should be exempted from such searches.
Grassley said he believes current proposals would weaken Second Amendment rights, as he says has happened in the past.
“In response to the shootings we've seen in recent years, policy makers should be focusing on making sure those determined to have real mental health problems don't have access to weapons and making sure more prosecutions are brought against criminals who unlawfully possess guns,” he said.
Grassley's opposition to last week's procedural motion on the bill to expand background checks once again put him at odds with Harkin, who supported it.