The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared firearm violence “a serious public health problem that impacts the health and safety of Americans.” Officials state there are important gaps in our knowledge about the problem and ways to prevent it. “Addressing the gaps is an important step toward keeping individuals, families, schools, and communities safe from firearm violence and its consequences.”
Firearm-related injuries are now the leading cause of death for children and adolescents in the United States, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. In 2023 there were 656 mass shootings, according to the Gun Violence Archive, an organization that tracks gun violence in the U.S. Those shootings resulted in the deaths of 42,959 people — 18,869 homicides, 24,090 by suicide.
Iowa is not immune from gun tragedies. Tragically, the University of Iowa was the fourth mass shooting on a college campus in 1991. Gun violence on school campuses continues to climb. Now, Iowa schoolchildren are targets — children who have been drilled in emergency procedures for gun violence since kindergarten are now graduating high school and college.
The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 included an assault weapons ban. The act prohibited the manufacture or sale of semi-automatic weapons and banned magazines accommodating 10 rounds or more. The act automatically expired after 10 years, when Congress refused to renew the ban.
It was only a matter of time before tragedy revisited our state. The recent tragedy in Perry is on the hands of our state and federal lawmakers who refuse to act. A commitment to hold those accountable should not be limited to the shooter and thoughts and prayers are not enough. For too long, lawmakers have sided with the National Rifle Association and gun manufacturers, not American voters who have pressed for reasonable laws regarding firearms.
Instead of restricting the use of automatic assault weapons just last year, Iowa lawmakers authorized hunters to use semi-automatic weapons including AR-15 rifles to hunt deer during a newly created antlerless season.
Americans worry about being murdered by gun violence. Today, that worry has become if you survive one mass shooting that you may be the victim of a second.
The League of Women Voters doesn’t advocate removing the Second Amendment. The history of firearm regulation is lengthy and fraught with politics. A law incorporating these five steps can be taken to make Americans safer and reduce deaths and injuries.
- Require criminal background checks for gun sales. Background checks are the only systematic way to stop felons, domestic abusers, and other dangerous people from buying firearms. Current federal law only requires background checks for gun sales at licensed dealers.
- an estimated 1 in 5 gun transfers take place without going through a licensed dealer; these occur online and at gun shows.
- 90% of the public, and three-quarters of NRA members, favor background checks.
- Ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines are designed to kill large numbers of people quickly and should be limited to military operations — not civilians.
- Make gun trafficking a federal crime. Every year, tens of thousands of guns find their way into the hands of criminals through illegal trafficking channels.
- Eliminate loopholes that allow convicted stalkers and domestic abusers access to guns.
- Fund the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research gun violence issues.
The League urges lawmakers to take action before the plague of gun violence increases in the Hawkeye state and more Iowans are killed or maimed.
Terese Grant and Holly Oppelt are co-presidents of the League of Women Voters of Iowa.