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Mayor, Police Chief Fight Gun Rights Bill

Joyce Russell/IPR
Pleasant Hill Mayor Sara Kurovski and Des Moines Police Chief Dana Wingert at a statehouse news conference

The Mayor of Pleasant Hill was at the statehouse Monday arguing against a wide-ranging gun rights bill backed by the National Rifle Association and making its way through the Iowa House.  

After an outcry from the public, the bill’s sponsor has removed some controversial provisions, but there’s still plenty in the legislation to concern gun safety advocates.

Pleasant Hill Mayor Sara Kurovski is a registered Republican who holds a permit to carry a weapon.  

She recalls a shooting incident on a snowy Monday morning two years ago.

“An individual we now know was under the influence of drugs began driving through the city of Pleasant Hill and was shooting at individuals as they were removing snow from their cars because it had snowed the night before,” Kurovski said at a statehouse news conference.

No one was killed in that shooting spree, but Kurovski says it was her first experience with a crisis situation.

“It changed people’s lives,” she said. 

Now she’s against the gun rights bill.   

Des Moines Police Chief Dana Wingert appeared alongside the mayor, also opposing the bill.

The two object to the legislation even though the Iowa League of Cities and various police groups have not taken a position on the bill. 

Among other things, the bill eliminates required permits to openly carry guns.  

Kurovski says that threatens public safety.

Open carry creates a more intimidating environment -Pleasant Hill Mayor Sara Kurovski

“Open carry creates a more intimidating environment and it makes it harder for law enforcement to investigate a scene,” Kurovski said.  

Kurovski says if there are a number of people openly carrying weapons at a crime scene, law officers may not be able to tell who the shooter is.

Critics of the bill say getting rid of gun permits creates other problems as well. 

Under the bill, all gun permits would no longer be required.

That includes permits to carry weapons, either concealed or openly, as well as permits to acquire weapons.

Credit John Pemble / IPR
Rep. Matt Windschitl (R-Missouri Valley)

Without permits, officials with the Iowa Department of Public Safety say background checks will no longer be required for private gun purchases. 

“Anything that has to do with background checks and anything that has to do with the permitting process, those are the things we’re focusing on right now,” said Amber Gustafson of Ankeny with Iowa Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.   

The bill also enacts so-called "stand your ground" language, reduces penalties for carrying a gun while drunk, and classifies fewer guns as assault weapons.   

The bill’s sponsor Rep. Matt Windschitl (R-Missouri Valley) would not say what’s most important in the bill.

“If you had to pick one or the other I probably couldn’t do it because these are all near and dear to my heart,”   Windschitl said on Iowa Public Radio’s River to River program.

Iowans are responsible people -Rep. Matt Windschitl

Windschitl says he is not concerned about the background checks.   He says it will still be illegal to sell another person a weapon if the seller knew or should have known the person wasn’t qualified to buy one.    Windschitl doubts that eliminating required permits will lead to more Iowans openly carrying guns.

Rep. Mary Wolfe (D-Clinton), a defense attorney in her life outside the legislature, is especially concerned about what’s known as "stand your ground".    

Under the bill, no one has a duty to retreat if a person’s life or safety is threatened, and a person may be wrong in their estimation of the danger or the force necessary to repel the danger.  

Wolfe says the current self-defense law isn’t perfect.

“It needs some updates but something like this that is so broad and makes so many policy changes isn’t good law,” Wolfe said.

Windschitl and Wolfe disagree on how easily a gun owner might get away with  shooting someone who’s committing a crime. 

Wolfe says homicide rates have gone up in states with "stand your ground".

Windschitl says he can’t explain the homicide rates elsewhere, but he says it will be different here because the law would require a gunowner to shoot responsibly.

“Iowans are responsible people,” Windschitl said.    

Credit John Pemble / IPR
Rep. Mary Wolfe (D-Clinton)

After complaints from the public, Windschitl has scaled the bill back so it no longer will prevent colleges and universities from banning weapons on campus. 

“I wouldn’t say it changed my mind,” Windschitl said.   “I still believe adults who attend our colleges and universities have a right to carry firearms.”

However, there appears to be continued angst among the general public about the bill.  

“There’s a lot here that concerns me,” said Mary Ann Today of Ames, who called in to the show.  “It creates anxiety whenever I think about it.”

Democrats say the bill is being pushed through without enough input from them. 

The legislation will likely make this week’s deadline for committee approval to stay alive for the session.