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Editorial: Stand your ground isn’t right for Iowa

Published: Friday, March 17, 2017 9:51 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, March 17, 2017 10:15 a.m. CDT

A bill making its way through the Iowa Legislature to expand gun rights in Iowa packs in an abundance of questionable and unneeded provisions — but at the forefront is “stand your ground.”

House File 517 cleared the Iowa House and advanced to the Iowa Senate Judiciary Committee this week with the inclusion of stand your ground, which would mean a person doesn’t have a duty to retreat before using deadly force.

While some Iowa law enforcement officials and county attorneys have taken issue with stand your ground — most citing the lessened burden to justify the use of lethal force in self-defense, Jasper County Sheriff John Halferty said he isn’t taking a position at this time.

Halferty said most valid permit carriers are law abiding citizens, and we agree.

The sheriff, who has issued more than 4,350 active permits to carry in Jasper County, also says “we want to respect the right of a citizen to exercise their Second Amendment right but still be safe in doing so. This includes making good decisions on when to carry, how, and when to use reasonable force.”

We believe safety and good decisions come sharply into question under the stand your ground provision. Further, this is not a problem to be fixed. Iowans already have the right to protect themselves with reasonable force. Stand your ground legislation will mean innocent people could be killed senselessly. Many people may believe their lives are threatened in many different scenarios in which violence shouldn’t be the first solution. Someone would simply have to feel threatened to fire their weapon — whether that threat is real or not would become the burden of our law enforcement officers and county attorneys.

This “shoot first and ask questions later” philosophy isn’t right for Iowa, especially since our state ranks in the ninth-lowest rate of gun violence, according to a recent study.

Meanwhile, according to a 2016 study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, Florida’s monthly homicide rate increased nearly 25 percent after implementation of its stand your ground law.

Other provisions in House File 517 would allow those 21 and under to possess a pistol while under the supervision of a parent or guardian. This falls in line with something we do support — gun safety education. People need to know how to handle a gun properly if they are going to have one in their possession. However, simply saying under 21 years of age means some parents might choose to arm children far too young to be handling a pistol. Even Iowa’s hunter safety and education courses require a child to be at least 11 years old to participate.

These are just two examples from a bill intended to needlessly open gun access in our state. Any gun laws passed this session should support common sense and safety, while keeping in mind that if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.

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