Imagine this scenario: Police arrive at a “Big Box” store after receiving a report of shots fired inside the store. Three people have guns drawn. An injured woman lies on the floor near them. Who is the bad guy? Did that person injure the woman on the floor, or was it someone else? Under a proposed overhaul of Iowa’s gun law, this scenario is not implausible. A broadly expanded Stand Your Ground provision would allow a person to fire a gun at someone they believe to be a threat to their life or safety or that of another person. There would be no duty to retreat, even if an alternative course of action were available.
Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed House File 517 by a vote of 10-2, one week after its passage in the Iowa House. The use of force/firearms bill is now in the Iowa Senate, where passage seems likely. Lawmakers and Iowans of all faiths must consider this crucial question first: What does this proposed law do as far as building a just and safe society?
But the Legislature seems determined to approve the use of force/firearms bill lock, stock and barrel, no questions asked. Among the key elements:
• Stand Your Ground — A person may use “reasonable force,” including deadly force, if that person reasonably believes that such force is necessary to avoid injury or risk to one’s life or safety or that of another person. The law would no longer require an individual to retreat, even if an alternative action is possible. If the aggressor is injured or killed in the process, the person who used reasonable force would not be held liable.
• Gun possession under age 21 — Youths under the age of 21 would be allowed to possess a pistol or revolver while under the direct supervision of a parent, guardian or spouse 21 years of age or older and would be permitted to learn the proper use of the firearm from an instructor 21 years of age or older.
• Gun permits — for pistols and revolvers would be good for five years, an expansion from the one-year limit.
• State of Emergency — Gun owners could not be prohibited from carrying, transporting, transferring or using firearms or ammunition in the event of a proclaimed state of emergency.
• Privacy — Use and disclosure of certain personal information about holders of nonprofessional permits would be restricted.
Chris Smith, an Iowan who manages a gun store in Moline, Ill., believes that the use of force/firearms bill follows legislation many other states have implemented in response to mass shootings in public places. He sees the law as a way to protect himself, his loved ones and others from a criminal who comes into a Big Box store, for example, and starts shooting. But that position, supported by state and federal gun rights’ lobbies, could leave a deadly margin for error.
Another of Smith’s positions does merit consideration: the section on youths offers a common-sense approach to ensuring that kids are properly instructed on the use of hand guns before curiosity gets the better of them and results in harm.
Overall, the use of force/firearms bill should go back to the drawing board because of its “Stand Your Ground” approach that could do more harm than good. How have Stand Your Ground laws fared in other states? What impact have they had on domestic violence, for example?
The Iowa Catholic Conference, which opposes the use of force/firearms bill, points out that Catholic moral teaching recognizes the right to self-defense as a way of preserving one’s life and defending others in the face of an imminent threat. But if a person has an opportunity to escape, that individual has an obligation to do so. Our church teaches that force is to be used as the last option, not the first one. Go to the Iowa Catholic Conference’s “Action Center” on its website (http://tinyurl.com/lf46scp) to register your opposition to the use of force/firearms bill.
In a country where civil discourse has coarsened and knee-jerk reactions have become our default mechanism, “Stand Your Ground” does not move us toward building a safe and just society.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor