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Sen. Ernst Hears From Iowans On Both Sides Of Gun Issues At Johnston Town Hall

joni ernst
Katarina Sostaric
Sen. Joni Ernst speaks with reporters in Johnston on Saturday.

Competing shouts of disapproval and cheers of support filled the auditorium of a Johnston elementary school early Saturday morning as Republican Sen. Joni Ernst answered questions about gun laws.

Several audience members pressed Ernst on what she’ll do to reduce gun violence. She said guns should be kept out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.

“A lot of the incidents that we see do come back to mental illness,” Ernst said.

Several people in the audience shouted over her, “No,” and “Do something.”

Ernst continued, “We need to make sure that those showing signs of instability are able to receive treatment.”

The junior senator from Iowa repeatedly focused her responses on mental illness as people continued to ask about gun control. A previous American Psychological Association statement says blaming mass shootings on mental illness is “unfounded and stigmatizing.”

Ernst also heard from gun rights advocates at the town hall-style meeting, who expressed concerns that “red flag laws” could negatively affect responsible gun owners.

“My rights as law abiding citizen should not be infringed upon by our federal government,” Ernst said to cheers and applause from some in the audience.

Ernst did not commit to supporting any new gun laws, but she said she would “look at” different proposals. Ernst repeatedly emphasized that there are existing gun laws that need to be enforced.

Ethanol exemptions "very damaging" to president's reputation.

Speaking with reporters after the meeting, Ernst said President Trump’s role in exempting some refineries from blending ethanol into gasoline is “very damaging” to his reputation among Iowa farmers.

She said she’s very disappointed, and farmers are angry.

Ernst was asked what she thinks of some corn growers calling for EPA head Andrew Wheeler to be fired for granting what they see as too many exemptions.

“Well, if the president gave him the directive I think it would be hard justifying letting Andrew Wheeler go,” Ernst said. “But this is a conversation that we will have to have with the president.”

Ernst said Ambassador to China and former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad hopes to speak directly with Trump about this issue. Trump promised Iowa farmers he would support ethanol.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter