Area lawmakers and firearms dealers seem amenable to gun-control legislation now proposed by President Donald Trump and other elected leaders in the wake of the most recent mass shootings.
After 31 people were killed in shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, earlier this month, the nation heard resumed calls for gun-control measures, including from Trump, who has vacillated on the issue.
The president ended last week calling for both bolstering federal background checks and asking U.S. Senate leaders to consider federal “red flag” laws that would allow the confiscation of firearms from those deemed a threat.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, joined that call.
“Existing laws are supposed to prevent dangerous people from purchasing or possessing firearms, but they don’t always work and many times aren’t enforced like they should be,” he said in a recent address. “We can do more to better protect our communities. ... I’m calling on law-abiding gun owners to lead the charge in the effort to keep dangerous individuals from purchasing guns and to expand access to mental health resources.”
Adjusting existing laws sits well with Ken Freiburger, owner of The Gun Depot and Pawn, 1564 Central Ave. in Dubuque.
“There are a lot of good laws already in place,” he said. “Adjusting or modifying those to make us safe, I see nothing wrong with.”
Specifically, he agreed that every gun sale should be done through a Federal Firearms License dealer to maintain the crucial paper trail.
Next door, Tony’s Jewelry and Loan manager Misty Wise said she, too, would be fine with a tweak to existing background checks. Specifically, she would want to see the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms have access to mental health records for processing background checks.
“They need to open that up,” she said. “I, as the broker, don’t need to know about your mental health, but the ATF should have that readily available. You could lie through your teeth on that form, and no one would know.”
Iowa Sen. Carrie Koelker, R-Dyersville, said mental health is going to be a big part of the conversation during the next legislative session in Des Moines, as it has been recently.
“Mass shootings are a huge concern,” she said. “At a state level, we’ve passed legislation that we hope helps with this — adult mental health, children’s mental health, school security. That shows we’re thinking about this.”
But she and other area lawmakers said proposed moves must consider the rights of law-abiding citizens.
“We don’t want activist judges going out to strip people of their Second Amendment rights,” said Illinois Sen. Andrew Chesney, R-Freeport, whose district includes Jo Daviess County. “We don’t want arbitrary rules where just because a family member said someone is dangerous, they lose their Second Amendment rights. But we’re in agreement that there are people who shouldn’t own firearms.”
Chesney said the issue shouldn’t be tackled at the state level.
“Any improvement to our laws need to happen on the federal level,” he said. “We’re a very mobile society. Having different sets of rules doesn’t work.”
Iowa Rep. Andy McKean, D-Anamosa, wondered if that sort of cooperation can happen in Washington, D.C.
“Federal government has a role, but who knows if that is going to happen or not,” he said. “The individual states need to be prepared to look at this themselves as well.”
McKean said there is growing interest in Des Moines as well as in Washington among those who once opposed any gun control.
“It is a situation where a minority has imposed their will on the majority,” he said. “Most Iowans, while supporting the Second Amendment, support reasonable public safety regulations. That sentiment is only increasing. I am hoping that will have some impact.”
Dubuque County Republicans Chairwoman Alexis Lundgren said the influence of Trump and Grassley could push that change.
“I’d like our states to have more control,” she said. “But if this is being brought up by our president and our very respected senator, I think it’s worth talking about.”
Iowa Rep. Chuck Isenhart, D-Dubuque, supported this most recent momentum.
“Without putting more guns in the hands of more people, I support whatever President Trump and Congress are willing to do,” he wrote in an emailed response. “I support whatever measures Gov. Reynolds and Iowa statehouse Republicans can enact to stem this rising tide of violence, prevent such incidents from happening in Iowa and someday eliminate the carnage in our society caused by the indiscriminate use of lethal weapons so often motivated by hate.”
Iowa Reps. Lindsay James, D-Dubuque; Shannon Lundgren, R-Peosta; and Lee Hein, R-Monticello; Iowa Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque; Wisconsin Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green; and Wisconsin Rep. Travis Tranel, R-Cuba City, did not respond to requests for comment for this story.