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Mattessich: Gun bill benefits insurance companies more than people

BY WILL MATTESSICH | MARCH 02, 2012 6:30 AM

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The new gun bill passed in the Iowa House has little potential to do good and great potential to do harm. It's a bill that is unnecessary for Iowans' safety that is written by insurance companies, and it will lead to accidental deaths.

The cheers of Iowans who see House File 2215 as a huge victory for personal freedom will be music to the ears of this bill's true beneficiaries: corporations. The bill will lead to lower liability-costs for insurance companies because of the loosened regulations in civil actions relating to use of deadly force. That's why these corporations participated in writing the bill with the other members of the American Legislative Exchange Council. HF 2215 is based directly off of one of the group's "model bills."

Gun control is an issue often ruled more by emotion than by logic. Pro-regulation advocates often use bombastic rhetoric about turning peaceful streets into violent free-for-alls and disputes in mall parking lots into shootouts at OK Corrals. Their stereotypical idea of a gun owner is a hotheaded dolt who thinks he's Wild Bill Hickock.

The pro-gun camp sometimes responds with the sentiment that the only thing keeping criminals at bay are America's registered gun owners, stalwart citizens who protect us all. In recent years, much of the misinformation about concealed-carry laws deterring crime has come from the study "More Guns, Less Crime," by John Lott, which has been largely disproven by the academic world.

Then, of course, there's the issue of the first line of the Second Amendment, which mentions the necessity of a well-regulated militia. This line has about as many interpretations and rationalizations made of it as there are of the Bible or the movie Inception.

The NRA decided to avoid the controversy on the front page of its website, leaving the first line off entirely. This seems odd. If we had an amendment that said, "The ability to outrun tornadoes being paramount to a sound democracy, the right of citizens to exceed 100 mph in their vehicles shall not be infringed," would a National Speeders Association PAC spring up, chop off everything before the comma, and protest loudly whenever a driver got a speeding ticket?

Even if anti-gun crusaders think America should be gun-free like many European countries, the position firearms occupy in our culture means they are here to stay. The citizen has a right to keep and bear arms.

Still, the Constitution does not say that citizens have a right to shoot someone because they feel scared. It does not say that citizens have a right to protect their egos from the wound of backing away from a criminal instead of shooting him or her.

There are two especially worrisome provisions in the bill: One is the section redefining the appropriate times to use deadly force. It reads: "A person may be wrong in estimation of the danger or the force necessary to repel the danger as long as there is a reasonable basis for the belief of that person and the person acts reasonably in response to the belief."

When added to the next section, the potential consequences of this law become clear: "4. A person who is not engaged in any illegal activity has no duty to retreat before using force as specified in this chapter …"

Iowans are already not legally obligated to back away from an aggressor in their home or place of business. But this bill means that, in a public place, instead of trying to find an alternative to using force that could kill someone, Iowans can open fire if they believe they are in danger regardless of whether using deadly force is necessary.

The problem this law is intended to address, that of the multitude of law-abiding gun owners who refrain from pulling the trigger because they are afraid of prosecution and subsequently lose their lives, doesn't exist. Humans don't need a government to tell us when to defend ourselves. Our internal "fight-or-flight" response is more inalienable than anything written in the Constitution.

What's much more likely is that citizens may now be less careful with their use of deadly force.

The law as it is now may lead to the accidental prosecution of some citizens who lawfully used deadly force to protect themselves (though the number of times this has happened since Iowa's bill passed in 1971 is closer to zero than to several), but this new bill creates a gray area that has the potential for dire consequences.

Let's make sure insurance companies don't make casualties of Iowan citizens and never allow this bill to become law.


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