WATERLOO — Panelists at a town hall meeting Thursday questioned the effectiveness of “red flag” gun laws and raised concerns about how they might infringe upon people’s rights.

The meeting, sponsored by Republicans of Black Hawk County, focused on the proposed law and other gun control measures approved by the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee in the wake of several mass shootings this year. The four panelists included firearms instructors, a Hawkeye Community College police science instructor and Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson.

Jason Vetter, a certified instructor with Cedar Valley Firearms Training and one of the panelists, said there is “no evidence” red flag laws that allow for the temporary seizure of guns from a potentially dangerous person “stop mass killings.”

“But the other thing is they violate due process,” he added, along with protections against unreasonable searches and seizures and the right to face your accuser. He claimed the laws mostly go unused in the 17 states which already have passed them.

“The due process part is very difficult for me,” said Thompson, a Democrat. In some cases, people with mental health issues are targeted by red flag laws. He called it a “rare situation” for a mentally ill person to commit a gun crime.

“When we’re looking at the red flag law, they’re trying to control the law-abiding citizen,” said Jenni Laughlin-Stevenson, a firearms instructor and one of the owners of Hick’s Place.

“The problem isn’t the gun, the problem is the education or the lack of education,” she added. Laughlin-Stevenson suggested many people grow up not learning how to “handle their feelings” and some are medicated rather than developing those skills. “We’re not addressing the true problem.”

Thompson weighed in on the other gun bills passed by the House Judiciary Committee. One would limit gun access for people who have been convicted of misdemeanor hate crimes.

He said it would be easy to implement such a law. “The question becomes, ‘Is it reasonable?’” he said, asking how long you punish someone for a misdemeanor which may have happened in their youth.

Banning large capacity ammunition magazines for guns, as in another bill, would be harder, he suggested. “I’m not sure how we go about banning large capacity magazines now that they’re out there,” commented Thompson.

Panelists also talked about the AR-15, a semi-automatic rifle often referred to as an “assault weapon” by those favoring various control measures.

Rob Boots, the police science instructor, said semi-automatic weapons used in the commission of a crime make up 0.03% of the 330 million guns in America. “It’s not a gun problem, it’s a people problem,” he asserted.

Laughlin-Stevenson, talking about the loophole in background checks at gun shows, noted “each vendor isn’t equal in its credentials.” If someone wants to buy from a gun dealer like her, they go through the checks that could result in a sale at a show being delayed or denied.

But those checks are not required for the “avid gun collector” selling at a show. While they still can’t sell to someone they know is a felon, a sale is permitted “if you have no reason to believe they cannot have that firearm,” she said.

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