Many things may have changed about the nation’s politics, but one remains constant: Radical pro-gun forces such as the National Rifle Association wield tremendous influence, and the result is the continual worsening of the nation’s firearm laws.
The new poster child for irresponsibility is the Iowa legislature, which passed a comprehensive bill loosening a variety of restrictions. Instead of vetoing it, Gov. Terry Branstad (R) hopped on the bandwagon, signing the legislation into law this month. Iowans will be less safe for it. Now the question is whether other states can resist the pressure to exercise similarly poor judgment.
The list of bad ideas is long, but it starts with the law’s provision permitting gun owners to bring concealed weapons into the state capitol. Though permits will be checked at the door, those inside would surely be safer if there were no guns on the premises that could go off accidentally, fall into the wrong hands or be drawn in a fit of rage.
If state lawmakers want to uselessly endanger their lives, that is one thing. But the law also empowers people to sue local governments if they feel “adversely affected” by municipal or county gun restrictions, particularly legal no-gun zones.
This has led a variety of critics to wonder if people will be able to sue into oblivion gun restrictions at local courthouses and city halls. The bill's sponsors claim that it would be hard for people to win a lawsuit claiming that gun bans at courthouses are an undue restriction on firearm rights. Yet the fact that there is any ambiguity is a problem.
The Des Moines Register reports that Iowa has already had a taste of what may be in store: In 2014, a man disgruntled about a property-tax increase fired a small gun at a county assessor at a meeting in a local courthouse. The assessor lived, but local officials and judges may not be as lucky the next time.
Meanwhile, Iowa officially joined the growing list of “stand your ground” states, which allow people to shoot immediately if they feel threatened, rather than obliging them to retreat if they have a safe escape route. “By allowing – and perhaps encouraging – violent situations to escalate in public,” then-Attorney General Eric Holder declared in 2013, “such laws undermine public safety.” The result is almost certainly that more people die.
Iowa is not the only state in the process of regressing. A raft of bad gun legislation is working its way through state legislatures elsewhere. Reasonable state leaders would look for ways to head off gun violence, not encourage it.