A new federal law provides assistance for states that enact "red flag" laws to keep guns out of the hands of people at risk of harming themselves or others. (Photo by Katie Akin/Iowa Capital Dispatch)
Gov. Kim Reynolds was tight-lipped this week on whether Iowa would implement “red flag” gun safety laws in light of Congress passing legislation which would offer states federal funding for their implementation.
President Joe Biden recently signed into law a bill that includes funding for states that pass legislation allowing authorities and family members to seek a court order for temporarily confiscating firearms from a person at risk of causing harm to themselves or others.
Reynolds did not say at a news conference Tuesday whether she supported passing such a measure in Iowa. But she did say that laws restricting gun access have not stopped mass shootings in other states.
“No matter how many laws or rules you have on the books, if somebody has evil in their heart, you can’t handle that,” Reynolds said.
The new law is Congress’ response to the string of mass shootings around the country, from a school in Uvalde, Texas, a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, and most recently a parade in Highland Park, Illinois. In the past two months, there have been two shootings in public spaces in Iowa.
Reynolds said the Highland Park shooting illustrates why these laws are not enough to stop mass shootings. Illinois is one of 19 states, alongside the District of Columbia, which already have red flag gun laws. The state law did not prevent the July 4 shooting, which killed seven people and left 46 people wounded.
Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller disagreed. He said the state Legislature should pass a “red flag” law, and said that their ineffectiveness in cases like the Illinois shooting were because officials did not know how to properly implement the new measure.
“This is a common-sense, scientifically supported solution to a crisis,” Miller said in a news release. “No single solution will prevent shootings, but we must take advantage of tools that can be effective.”
The federal legislation would provide $750 million to states for implementation, which would involve training law enforcement and prosecutors on how to effectively carry out these laws.
Miller pointed to a study from the University of California Davis School of Medicine which found when guns were taken away from people deemed at risk when a shooting was threatened, those acts were not carried out in 58 cases. Researchers say they can also prevent suicides and deaths in domestic violence situations.
In addition to putting grant funding behind “red flag” laws, the new federal law provides billions of dollars for state mental health and school security programs. The law also closed the “boyfriend loophole,” which allowed unmarried partners to own guns even if they have been charged with abuse.
The legislation passed with bipartisan support, but most of Iowa’s delegation voted against the measure. Only U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst and U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne supported the gun safety bill. U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley expressed concerns over the constitutionality of the “boyfriend loophole” changes when he explained his vote against the bill, saying he did not want to endanger Second Amendment rights.
“There are legal definitions too vague to be enforced, or at least consistently enforced,” Grassley said on his vote.
The governor has taken steps similar to the federal gun safety law in Iowa – specifically, providing more funding for gun violence prevention programs. In June, she allocated $100 million in federal funds toward mental health and school safety measures, creating the School Safety Bureau. The new law could provide further funding for the state program, which works with law enforcement, school staff and families to train for and stave off violence in public spaces.
But some Democrats, including Deidre DeJear, Reynolds’ opponent in the governor’s race, say these measures are not enough. DeJear has argued for a minimum age requirement of 21 to purchase assault-style rifles, as well as permits for purchasing firearms and licenses for carrying handguns.
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