Our nation needs to focus on the greater good – Randy Evans

Middle ground seems to have disappeared in the United States, and that’s unfortunate. 

These days, there’s no appetite for the give-and-take that leads to compromise. Regardless of the side you are on, it’s pretty much “my way or the highway.”

Speaking of highways, in 1973, Congress and President Richard Nixon enacted a nationwide 55 mph speed limit in response to the oil embargo by Middle East petroleum producers. Lead-footed Iowa drivers, frustrated after zooming along at 75 mph on Interstate highways, got nowhere with their objections the new speed limit interfered with their constitutionally articulated right to “secure the blessings of liberty” by driving faster. A generation before, it was the same following the attack on Pearl Harbor. The federal government instituted a 35 mph “victory speed limit.” There were some who disregarded the new limit, of course, but most Americans willingly went along with the inconvenience — because they accepted assurances the lower speed limit was accomplishing a greater good for the American public. Today, however, anyone making “the greater good” arguments about any limitations on guns is going to get a response similar to what occurs when you knock down a hornets’ nest. I know, because I was “stung” several times last week in conversations with some readers around Iowa and from points beyond who see no wiggle room, and no value in compromise, on issues relating to guns and the Second Amendment.  No wiggle room for more comprehensive background checks — to include people who buy guns from private sellers and would-be buyers whose transactions are allowed to go through if the FBI background check is not finished within three days. No compromise on raising the age for purchasing any firearm to 21, from the current 18. No wiggle room for stopping the sale of large-capacity ammo clips and magazines to private purchasers and limiting those transactions to military and law enforcement buyers. No compromise for ending what is called the “boyfriend loophole” — which allows guns to be taken from people who have been convicted of domestic violence against a spouse or someone they live with or with whom they have a child. But the law does not apply to stalkers, nor does it apply to a current or former dating partner.  And no wiggle room for restricting the sale of body armor only to military and law enforcement buyers.

That last no-compromise point came home to Iowa after an 18-year-old gunman, protected by body armor made in our state, killed 10 people with a semi-automatic rifle at a Buffalo, N.Y., supermarket on May 14. 

The victims included security guard Aaron Salter, the first armed person to confront the gunman. But Salter’s shots were ineffective against the gunman’s body armor. The Buffalo News reported the gunman bought two protective plates from RMA Armament, whose offices and factory are in Centerville. The company website shows the retail price for two armor plates like the gunman purchased was $640. If the 18-year-old had any concerns about the effectiveness of those armor plates, the company’s website dispels anxieties. The newspaper reported RMA says the plates can stop bullets fired by M16 automatic rifles used by the military and by AR-15 semi-automatic rifles like one the killer used. Most states allow private citizens to purchase body armor, although some require the purchases to be made in person, rather than online. Following the Buffalo killings, New York state lawmakers began work on legislation to prohibit body armor sales to private buyers.

The “boyfriend loophole” came into the spotlight following the shooting deaths last week of two Iowa State University students, Eden Montang and Vivian Flores, in the parking lot of an Ames church. Their killer, Johnathan Whitlatch of Boone, shot and killed himself seconds later.

Montang and Whitlatch had dated but had recently broken up. But two days before the killings, he was charged with harassment and impersonating a public figure in relation to the breakup. 

In 2017, he was accused of domestic abuse by a woman in Wapello County, but that case was settled when a judge ordered him to undergo anger management counseling. Last October, Whitlatch was charged with sexually assaulting a woman at a Cedar Falls bar. His trial was scheduled to begin next month. 

Because he had not been convicted of a crime, he was allowed to purchase the 9 mm pistol used in the killings and an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle that was in his apartment.

Lawmakers have resisted pressure to close the boyfriend loophole. The National Rifle Association has objected, arguing that confiscating the guns of these people would be ripe for abuse.

Those same slippery-slope concerns were expressed by one reader who feared what some see as common-sense, middle-ground attempts to reduce gun violence would eventually lead liberals in government to confiscate everyone’s firearms.

Be assured the federal government is not going to sweep in and start seizing everyone’s firearms. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to own guns. 

But Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the landmark “Heller” gun decision in 2008, added an important qualifier that often is overlooked: “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. … The right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” The middle ground in reducing the misery from gun deaths will not totally wipe away the problem. But a growing number of people are ready for changes that would, at least, slow the rapidly growing string of unnecessary tragedies with steps like I mentioned above.

Tanner Krause, CEO of the Kum & Go convenience stores, wrote in a recent Des Moines Register column: “We should not let the complexity of a problem get in the way of making progress.”

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

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