Opinion | Focus on the ‘who’ in gun policy

When gun crime occurs, it is the people that need to be addressed.

Chris Klepach, Opinions Columnist

Gun rights have been a heated debate among both sides of the aisle for years.

No matter what side of the issue we stand on, one thing needs to be clear: It is the people who commit acts of violence with firearms, not the firearms themselves.

 In Iowa, we should pay attention to the mental health of potential firearm owners by criminalizing firearm possession — not only purchases — to those with a concerning mental health background.

This must be considered when firearms are called into the question of law. Within reason, we shouldn’t restrict the accessibility. Instead, we need to enact laws that prevent firearms from getting into the wrong hands.

Left-wing activists and most Democrats want to restrict access to firearms through extensive background checks and prohibiting open carry by citizens. The argument is that gun violence can be curbed with tighter regulation of firearms. Meanwhile, the majority of conservatives and Republicans believe firearms should be sold with little federal involvement.

Gun laws in Iowa have changed drastically over the years. On Nov. 9, 2022, Iowans cast their vote on whether firearms are a fundamental individual right to ensure rights to arms at the state level. This amendment passed with 65.2 percent of the vote.

The new language redefines firearm ownership as a fundamental right:

“The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” the Iowa Constitution now reads. “The sovereign state of Iowa affirms and recognizes this right to be a fundamental individual right. Any and all restrictions of this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny.”

This aligns with Iowa’s relatively loose firearm restrictions, including concealed carry of firearms. In Iowa, no permit is needed to conceal carry if the carrier is old enough and eligible for a firearm possession permit.

Other states around Iowa have responded differently to issues surrounding firearms. They set an example for how Iowa can prevent gun violence without binding the hands of future or current firearm owners.

In Wisconsin, possession of a firearm is illegal for those who have been found not guilty of a crime by pleading insanity. This law also applies to those committed for treatment because of a developmental disability, drug dependency, or mental illness and have been ordered not to possess a firearm.

But Iowa does not prohibit those with mental health issues to have a firearm.

 There is a common misconception that those with mental illness are always responsible for gun violence. Most of those with mental illness don’t enact violence against others. According to Everytown For Gun Safety, the leading cause of firearm death in Iowa during 2022 was suicide, at 78 percent, and homicide, at 19 percent.

Iowa only requires mental health reporting on purchasing firearms. We should take this a step further because a person can already have a firearm through means of previous ownership before a diagnosis, being given a firearm, or living in a household with a firearm.

If our legislature had measures in place to reduce firearm access to mentally vulnerable individuals, it could reduce firearm fatalities. This can be done by adopting a similar legislature that Wisconsin has.

It is the people and their mental health that we should worry about in Iowa. We shouldn’t be looking at attachments or models but at the people themselves.

If we worry about individuals before firearms, we can stop the trigger from being pulled.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.