Reprinted from the Des Moines Register July 22.
You’re looking to adopt a pet, so you visit the local animal shelter with your son and granddaughter on a Sunday afternoon. While heading toward the cat area, another visitor accidentally fires the handgun in his pocket. The bullet ricochets off the floor and sends you to the hospital.
Instead of going home with a new cat, you go home with shrapnel in your feet and the back of your leg.
This is what happened to Denise Robinson during a recent visit to the Animal Rescue League in Des Moines.
“As we were walking those two or three steps, some wild crash happened, and I thought somebody dropped something. In that nanosecond, I looked down, I was standing in a pool of blood,” she told a Register editorial writer.
The shooter, Zakarey Gwinn, 27, walked away physically and criminally unscathed. The Polk County Sheriff’s Office is not filing any charges against him. As a 14-year-old, Gwinn was ordered to undergo counseling after taking a gun to school. In 2011, he pleaded guilty to possession of drug paraphernalia. (The public knows about these incidents because law enforcement actually filed charges in those cases.)
Like many Iowans, Robinson is understandably dismayed by the lack of accountability for a man who totes a gun in his pocket, apparently has a round in the chamber and inadvertently shoots people. She is also baffled by state laws that allow so many barely trained people to carry guns and that prohibit law enforcement from disclosing who is legally allowed to do so.
“I don’t have issues with carrying guns to protect yourself or having one,” she said. “I’m not a radical anti-gun. But anyone can get a permit. Anyone can get a gun and carry it anywhere. I just don’t understand what the hell is going on.”
Here’s what is going on in Iowa:
In 2010, lawmakers passed a law taking discretion away from county sheriffs in deciding who should be granted a permit to carry a weapon. Now, hundreds of thousands of Iowans, including some who have never fired a gun, can legally tuck loaded weapons in their clothing and vehicles — in their pockets, purses, backpacks, glove compartments and under seats of cars.
It is a recipe for exactly the kind of disaster Robinson experienced.
In 2017, the GOP-controlled Iowa Legislature passed a bill that allows Iowans to sue local governments that enact gun-free zones, expands existing “stand-your-ground” laws and provides confidentiality for permit holders, including those involved in shootings.
Champions of that law include Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, who said after the ARL shooting he did not support requiring Iowans to use holsters or other protective devices to prevent accidental discharges.
You have free articles remaining.
In other words, gun owners can do whatever they want while the rest of us are supposed to hope for the best.
In November, Iowans should support candidates who advocate the following ideas, none of which infringe on anyone’s right to own a gun:
Require gun owners buy liability insurance
The Iowa Legislature should require gun owners to have liability insurance the same way drivers are required to carry auto insurance. Who is going to pay the ambulance and hospital bills for Robinson?
While traditional insurance companies may not offer this coverage, the National Rifle Association is now pushing Carry Guard Insurance, which it describes as “comprehensive personal firearms liability insurance, including self-defense insurance, for those who lawfully carry firearms and their families, including protection against civil liability, the cost to defend against civil and criminal actions and immediate access to attorney referrals.”
The coverage also includes “supplementary payments as needed for bail, criminal defense legal retainer fees, lawful firearm replacement, compensation while in court, psychological support and cleanup costs” after a shooting with a legal firearm.
Transparency in weapons permits
After the ARL shooting, Polk County law enforcement said they could not reveal whether Gwinn had a valid permit to carry a weapon, citing the 2017 law mandating secrecy. The police incident report, which is a public record, showed Gwinn did have a permit.
Iowans should be able to know if that permit is revoked or renewed. They should also be able to find out whether co-workers, boyfriends, babysitters and others have been granted legal permission to carry deadly weapons.
Statewide tracking of firearm injuries
News outlets across the state cover local shootings — if they know about them, consider them a priority and have the staff to do the reporting. Short of monitoring every media entity and checking every county and city police report, there is no way to know how many Iowans are injured by guns. While firearm deaths are tracked by the Iowa Department of Public Health, injuries are not.
Law enforcement agencies should be required to report all firearm injuries to a central, publicly accessible database maintained by a state entity. This would allow Iowans to know how many of us are being shot, compare numbers over time and assess how changes in gun laws are affecting people.
Iowa’s elected officials have gone out of their way to encourage more people to own, carry and even use firearms. It is reasonable to expect liability, transparency and accountability for those who tote guns, including those who shoot innocent bystanders at an animal shelter.