Legislative Republicans struggled Saturday to defend a sweeping gun bill that, by all appearances, is rocketing toward the governor's desk.
Miryam Stone, a mother of young children and employee of a local elementary school, ignited an already hostile crowd at Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency in Bettendorf. Tears streamed down her face as she ripped into the gun bill, which last week plowed through the House on a partisan vote.
"How can you expect me to work, how can you expect me to live in a state that would pass a law that endangers the lives of my children," she said, voice quivering and tears streaming down her face.
More than 200 people, largely hostile to the four Republicans sitting up front, erupted in applause as Stone lambasted "stand-your-ground," a provision that lowers the threshold for a justified shooting. Some rose and gave Stone a standing ovation. And then, Rep. Gary Mohr, R-Bettendorf, took a swing at defending his vote.
Gun-free zones, such as schools and universities, are "invitations" for mass-shooters, Mohr said, regurgitating a well-worn gun lobby talking point. The place went nuts. Boos rained down. Two women waved signs over their heads that said "disagree" in bold letters. Mohr later found himself defending his comments to four high school students from the Davenport Community School District after the event wrapped.
The legislation's original draft would have done away with gun-free zones at state universities, a provision that really excites the National Rifle Association. But that bit was killed after college administrators attacked it. The living draft, however, bars cities and counties from declaring gun-free zones, including city hall. Democrats love to point out that the bill would maintain most of the restrictions on packing heat in the Statehouse.
I'm a gun owner and still struggle to see the benefits of a hail of bullets, fired by untrained citizens, flying through a crowded, chaotic space. And that's the best outcome of Mohr's hypothetical. Police chiefs throughout the country regularly cite data that suggests the vast majority would never pull the trigger. They would hesitate and, in the process, became targets.
Sen. Roby Smith, R-Davenport, will soon vote on the House's gun bill in the state Senate. Smith is expected to join his caucus and send the bill — and its stand-your-ground provision — to Gov. Terry Branstad. Unlike Mohr, Smith opted to flank the question.
The safety of his four young children, Smith said while listing their ages, will be at the forefront of his mind when the Senate votes to "pass" the legislation.
And even Smith's dodge said more than the silence from Sen. Mark Lofgren, R-Muscatine, and Rep. Ross Paustian, R-Walcott. They decided to remain quiet after watching their colleagues founder.
Stone, the weeping mother and educator from Davenport, might have thrown a nasty slider to the Republicans at Saturday's forum. But to Democrats, Stone set the issue on a tee.
Rep. Phyllis Thede, D-Bettendorf, one of a handful of African-Americans in the Legislature, said the result of "stand your ground" will be minorities needlessly staring down the barrel of a gun.
A copious amount of research has been done on the innate bias — the product of generations of stereotypes — carried by white Americans against blacks. In too many cases, simply being black is a cause for white fear, researchers have found. And that's a real problem when a proposed law would make that fear enough to justify a shooting. Any law that neuters the "duty to retreat," as this bill does, is destined to disproportionately target minorities. It's even more true at a time when, at a national scale, white nationalists are screaming "get out of my country" before attacking anyone who looks "foreign," egged on by the likes of U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa.
Saturday's crowd was, indeed, hostile to the Republicans in the room. By and large, the took it. They defended themselves when they could.
But they were flummoxed by Stone's appeal on gun regulation. It's never a good sign when even the bill's supporters can't defend it.
Jon Alexander is editorial page editor at the Quad-City Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.