Iowa gubernatorial candidates on largest mass shooting in U.S. history: What’s next?

Iowa gubernatorial hopefuls ponder approaches to gun control.

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Joseph Cress

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks with members of the media after a visit on the University of Iowa campus to learn about diversifying biomass fuel sources on at the Cambus Maintenance Facility on Wednesday, June, 7, 2017. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg met with University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld and other university experts on their visit while discussing the university’s biomass portfolio. (The Daily Iowan/Joseph Cress)

The two deadliest mass shootings in recent U.S. history occurred within a little more than a year of one another.

In June 2016, 49 people were killed in the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, only to be surpassed by the largest U.S. mass shooting to date: the Las Vegas massacre perpetrated by 64-year-old Stephen Paddock at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, killing 58 people.

Even with Iowa’s low rank among states in terms of gun violence, the continued U.S. gun violence poses a question for the 2018 Iowa gubernatorial hopefuls: How can the state maintain its relative safety from mass shootings?

For Sen. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, the massacre in Las Vegas did not change his position on gun control, but it did bring him back to the Stand-Your-Ground bill, which the Legislature passed in April.

The bill permits the use of deadly force so long as the force is in self-defense.

Boulton, who opposed the bill, hopes Iowa leaders turn to law-enforcement officials to combat gun violence; they, he said, are a plainly missing voice in the gun-control debate.

Along with his emphasis on law enforcement, Boulton said the standard of gun use needs to be updated, referring to the bill.

“… Change the standard of when someone can use deadly force to a position where even mistakes are protected in the statute,” Boulton said in response to House Bill 517. “… I was proud to stand with law enforcement with the concerns of many people in our state when that [bill] went through.”

Ross Wilburn, a Democratic candidate and former Iowa City mayor, said he continues to support the Second Amendment despite recent events but supports gun control in Iowa.

“There are too many times that the story’s the same — the interviews are the same, and the media accounts are the same,” Wilburn said in response to the Las Vegas shootings. “And then a few other ideas are bantered around, and then it drops because the NRA does its lobbying …”

When it comes to updating its gun control, Wilburn said, the United States is past its time to catch up with other nations.

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“We can have people enjoy the rights of the Second Amendment and still take steps to make sure that they don’t have access to such a large volume of weapons of rounds,” he said. “Especially the rounds being able to convert something into a fully automatic weapon — just Las Vegas itself shows — there were people who were concealed-carry out there, and they didn’t know which way to fire.”

The Second Amendment is also backed by John Norris, a Democratic candidate who lives in Des Moines.

“I think responsible citizens who want to own a gun, that’s fine. Let’s make sure that they are qualified, and go through a background check, and they go through a permit,” he said. “I’m not about taking guns from law-abiding citizens.”

Part of Norris’ approach to gun control, he said, is to honor what he calls responsible gun owners but have sensible gun laws, so firearms don’t fall into the wrong hands.

But some candidates are re-evaluating the problem’s root, instead focusing on its mental- and physical-health implications.

“As a doctor, it’s a public-health issue to me,” said Andy McGuire, a Democratic candidate from Des Moines. “If people were dying of anything else — if they were dying of food poisoning, or they were dying in car accidents, we would be putting together a task force to figure out how to not have our fellow citizens die, so I look at it as a public-health issue.”

People who are struggling with mental illness, she said, should not have guns; they also do not need such large amounts of ammunition.

Cathy Glasson, who is a Democratic candidate, nurse, and SEIU Local 199 union leader from Coralville, also sees gun violence as a health issue.

“When I talk about it from my health-care lens, honestly, working in intensive-care units, I’ve been in ERs, and I know nurses who work in the ER that have talked about the impact that gun violence has on tearing families apart,” Glasson said. “The incident in Las Vegas is one example of how gun violence affects so many of us and our communities.”

Democratic candidate and former President of the Des Moines School Board Jon Neiderbach said he would approach gun control by implementing liability insurance for persons owning guns.

“It’s a personal responsibility if you own a gun,” he said. “There are costs included.”

A supporter of mental heath-care services separating themselves from the criminal-justice system, Neiderbach said taxpayers should not be forced to pay the cost of gun violence.

Republican candidate Steve Ray, a Boone City Councilor and mayor pro tem, said though he does remain a proponent of the Second Amendment, he is not sure that assault weapons are necessary, but that doesn’t mean legislation will stop gun violence.

“You can legislate almost every issue that comes up, but what could it fix?” Ray said.

Ray, who considers himself to be moderately conservative, said as governor, he would support commercially banning such accessories as bump stocks, which he believes serve no purpose other than in military endeavors.

The real problem, Ray said, is not gun legislation but how residents of Iowa, and the United States, approach mental illnesses.

“No matter what they say about the Las Vegas shooter … obviously [he] would have to be insane,” Ray said.

Former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and Gov. Kim Reynolds, Ray said, both fail to deal with mental health in the state.

Fred Hubbell, a Democratic candidate and former CEO of Equitable Life Insurance of Des Moines, also brought up mental-health awareness in response to the mass shooting.

The Daily Iowan reached the Hubbell campaign and was directed to Hubbell’s early October commentary from campaign events in Carroll, Iowa, which was also reported by the Caroll Daily Times Herald.

“What can we learn from it? Unfortunately, there is a connection,” Hubbell said. “People who act out in an egregious way often have a mental-health or an addiction issue, or both.”

The people of Iowa, he said, should spend more time, more attention, and more money to address the growing issues around mental health.

“… but I think it just reminds me — I think it should remind all of us — that mental health is a very serious issue,” he said.

The DI reached Reynolds’ office and received a response from her communications director, Pat Garrett.

Garrett said the governor continues to support the Second Amendment after the shooting, and she believes people need to remain vigilant and mindful of their surroundings.

“[Reynolds] does not believe in a knee-jerk solution,” Garrett wrote in an email to the DI. “The governor believes that the Second Amendment is a guaranteed constitutional right that allows law-abiding citizens to posses firearms to protect themselves, their homes, and families.”

Garrett said that along with remaining mindful of their surroundings, Reynolds wants people to cooperate with local law enforcement and not be afraid to alert the authorities to suspicious activity to combat gun violence.

The DI also contacted the office of Republican candidate and Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett but did not receive a response.

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