With a little bit of sass and a lot of conviction, Drake University student Michaela Spielburger decided enough was enough. She and her friends got together the night before March 24th to make posters protesting the gun violence happening across America. The March for Our Lives protest in Des Moines brought together people from all over the state and of all ages and backgrounds, but they all shared one common goal: change the gun laws in this country. The protest wasn’t a one time statement though. Change is coming and not everyone is happy about it.
“We all have a voice and there’s ways for that voice to be heard and I thought that was my duty because I believe that there needs to be stricter gun laws,” Spielburger says.
This is how many of Spielburger’s generation see their role in today’s rough political climate.
Stop Shooting Us Down
“Stop Shooting Us Down” is what Spielburger wrote in bold letters on her poster. The “us” was made out of the U.S. flag, meant to be a play on words. The fight for gun control in America is an emotional one. The posters and the faces of protesters at the rally reflected that. But Spielburger chose to find hope in her sorrowful surroundings.
“I was feeling fed up, but also fairly hopeful because we were all trying to make a change,” Spielburger says. “I don’t think the positive should ever be taken out of a situation. Even with something as sad and dark as gun shootings, there’s still something to be hopeful about and that’s the possibility for change.”
No one wants these massacres to continue, but Americans are at a crossroads, disagreeing with how to go about making a change. On one side, people believe gun laws need to be stricter, making it more difficult to bear such dangerous arms. On the other, they vehemently guard their second amendment rights and demand the problem starts with the people, not the weapons.
According to the Center for American Progress’s 2018 report, “Gun Violence in Iowa: A Cautionary Tale”, Iowa has some of the lowest gun death rates in America. And yet, from 2007-2016, 2,253 Iowans were killed by gun. Here are some more facts that were in the report:
- Every five hours in Iowa a gun theft occurs.
- The most common method to commit suicide in Iowa is firearms.
- At least 43 percent of the state’s domestic violence gun homicides of women were committed using long guns from 2007-2016.
- 4 percent of Iowa’s population is African Americans but they account for 31 percent of its gun homicide victims.
- From 2012-2015, it was estimated that 6,444 firearms were stolen in Iowa; a gun stolen every five hours.
The report lists these as the concerns they want addressed in Iowa: close the long gun loophole and require background checks for all long gun sales, enact a gun violence restraining order, require gun owners to report lost or stolen guns, restore law enforcement discretion in the issuance of concealed carry permits, and repeal the dangerous “stand your ground” law.
Matt Sinovic, co-author of this report, is the executive director for Progress Iowa, a multi-issue advocacy group in Iowa. They work to equip the activists of Iowa with the tools they need to get their messages across, the organization leans left.
Sinovic had a lot to say about the gun laws in Iowa and the changes he sees as necessary. One of the biggest issues he addressed was the loophole in legislature gun owners have found. If someone purchases a long gun, like a rifle or shotgun, from a private seller, say at a gun show or on Ebay, you aren’t required to have a background check done.
“It’s kind of scary because that’s a huge loophole where anyone can buy a gun for whatever reason,” Sinovic says. “And it’s long guns, those types of guns are used frequently in domestic violence cases and domestic shootings–it’s pretty scary to think someone who has a background of criminal activity or domestic violence, there’s nothing to prevent them from purchasing one of these weapons at a gun show or from private sale.”
Then there’s the new self-defense “Stand Your Ground” law that’s been enacted in Iowa as of 2017. This law permits individuals to “use deadly force even if retreat or other non lethal methods would be enough to protect their safety”, according to Gliffords Law Center. If someone is perceived to be a threat, you can just shoot them.
Sinovic referred to the tragedy that happened in 2012 with this law: Trayvon Martin. Trayvon Martin was an unarmed 17 year old black male. He was shot and killed in Florida by neighborhood watch member George Zimmerman.
“The law allows for that type of bias to come into play,” Sinovic says. “If someone sees someone they’re not comfortable with, for whatever reason, then they could, if they feel like they’re a perceived threat to their safety, then they can shoot them. That’s the way the law is written.”
Should America have laws that allow such clear prejudice?
What is Iowa Doing?
Representative Art Staed is one of many trying to make changes to Iowa gun laws. Staed believes that Iowa law needs to enforce universal background checks, extreme risk protection orders in which family and law enforcement are able to temporarily take guns away from someone if they prove mentally unstable through due process, and limit the use of assault style weapons and devices that turn a semi-automatic weapon into an automatic one.
“I do not believe that more guns makes us safer,” Staed says. “I believe that the fewer guns people have access to is safer, it just makes common sense, if the gun’s not around it’s not going to be able to be used.”
For Representatives Marti Anderson and Ras Smith, their main concern is public safety.
“We have the right to put some qualifiers on the right to own and carry guns,” Anderson says. “Not on the guns as much but on the people who get the guns, that’s my biggest concern.”
“When we look at the second amendment, you have to look at it in a modern perspective, things have changed and evolved. It’s always going to be relevant but it has to be curtailed to apply to 2018. We have to put some things in place to make sure we’re diligent. People are losing their lives.”
Armed and (Not) Dangerous
The NRA affiliate club, Iowa Firearms Coalition (IFC), is a gun rights group whose mission is to preserve the second amendment rights of Iowans. Their Communications Director, Derek Drayer, represents the other side of the aisle when it comes to the discussion on gun control in America.
“Our assessment is that there are some people who are passionately against gun rights,” Drayer says. “A lot of this is fueled by the people who are opposed to the current party in power. I think this is, I don’t want to say it’s as much to do with gun control as it is about putting people in office who aren’t currently, I don’t wanna say it’s purely for democrats, but I think it has a lot to do with the bigger picture of politics.”
The shootings that have been happening all too much are fueling the gun control debate. Massacres are happening all over the country and Iowans are speaking out from both sides. IFC says that because the gun control side has an emotional argument, their voices are louder and overshadow the logic of the gun rights activists.
“Obviously we have the same empathy everyone else does, but the solutions and how we get to stopping it and preventing it [shootings], are different,” Drayer says.
For Drayer, guns aren’t to blame for the tragedies happening.
“We have a culture where I think we devalue each other’s lives,” Drayer says. “From how we meet people to how we talk online to video games to when we swipe to date people, I think it’s devalued human life.”
Protect Lives, Or Protect Guns, Can Both Be Done?
It’s never been an easy topic to talk about, and now especially with the amount of gun violence and shootings happening in the world, gun control is controversial to say the least. No matter what side you’re taking a stand on, the consensus is that the violence needs to end. America wants peace, but at what cost to the constitution? They want gun rights, but at what cost to human life? New lines are being drawn and new legislature made. Change is coming to America and they can’t please everyone.
Photo credits: Michaela Spielburger