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City’s response to new gun laws is just, sensible

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JANUARY 19, 2011 7:10 AM

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Like it or not, guns are here to stay.

Whether they inspire thoughts of John Wayne or Elmer Fudd, there is no denying that guns are a quintessentially American cultural prop; for many people, owning a gun embodies the independence and individualism central to the American narrative. Our Constitution itself codifies firearm possession as a right, but states and cities have long regulated their use, operating out of a vested interest in the public welfare and distribution of deadly weapons.

The recent shift in state gun laws has prompted the Iowa City City Council to consider a resolution banning firearms on city property. The Iowa City Public Library is planning a similar measure. Even with the understanding that the U.S. Constitution allows for citizens to arm themselves, both of these restrictions are eminently reasonable and deserve the support of Iowa City residents.

Standardized permit regulations took effect earlier this month, preventing sheriffs from both using their best judgment to deny carry licenses and restricting those licenses to concealed-only. This shift in gun laws clears the way for citizens who pass a background check and required training (which does not necessitate actually firing a weapon) to display firearms openly in public.

Many proponents of open-carry laws cite the Second Amendment, which has become far more contentious than it must have been when originally envisioned. On one side of the debate, some gun-control advocates argue that the amendment is an obsolete relic referring only to militia. On the other end of the spectrum, groups such as the National Rifle Association argue that the right to bear arms means citizens can carry any gun, anywhere, anytime. “There are always restrictions that can be put on these types of rights,” UI political-science Associate Professor Tim Hagle told the DI Editorial Board on Tuesday. He said that the primary question is how much the government can judiciously regulate to serve a compelling interest.

Compelling interest, of course, depends heavily on local needs. In some areas of Iowa, particularly rural ones, it may be inconvenient or unnecessary to prohibit citizens from openly carrying their firearms into town. But there is no reason a citizen needs to carry a gun into the Iowa City Public Library, to City Council meetings, or even on the Pedestrian Mall.

Open carry, in particular, can have a devastating effect on the public sphere. A gun openly displayed on the hip is a visual display of dominance over your unarmed peers; the presence of a weapon makes every disagreement potentially dangerous and creates an overwhelming power dynamic.

This is not, of course, an argument in favor of a blanket ban on the open carrying of firearms — that would constitute a clear violation of Second Amendment rights. But local governments should and do have the authority to determine whether open carry of firearms on government-controlled property is detrimental or beneficial to their community. The Iowa Attorney General’s Office recently circulated a memo to county attorneys, explicitly stating that the new gun laws do not supersede local regulations on where individuals are allowed to carry weapons.

The City Council, therefore, can proceed with its efforts to ban firearms in City Hall, the Ped Mall, and the Iowa City Public Library, where there is no good reason to carry a weapon. These efforts have become especially important with the removal of firearm-proficiency requirements, as a gun in the hands of a legal, inexperienced user can be just as dangerous as one in the hands of a criminal.

There are some situations where Americans should have the right and the ability to defend themselves, but the open wearing of guns in peaceful public places can do more harm than good, especially if gun owners do not know how to use them. Firearms are a cornerstone of American culture and freedoms, but that does not mean they should be immune from regulation; instead, local governments should feel free to enact reasonable restrictions that benefit their communities.

Barring guns from libraries and city halls certainly counts as reasonable.


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