COLUMN: As Congress debates gun measures, NRA money distorts arguments | Columnists

On March 15, 22-year-old Eden Montang of Ames posted an Instagram post about red flags, a topic that, strangely, is currently being debated in Congress. “Stop treating red flags as challenges instead of warning signs,” she wrote, calling them “unsolicited relationship advice.”

Most likely, although she didn’t name Johnathan Whitlatch, it was advice taken from her own relationship with the man who authorities say killed her on June 2, less than three months later.

Montang, a graduate of Boone High School and a senior in the College of Human Sciences at Iowa State University who worked with the Iowa National Guard, was shot outside Cornerstone Church in Ames. She and her 21-year-old friend, Vivian Flores, were on their way there for a service. Authorities have named Whitlatch, who had been abusive to her and with whom she had broken up, for both deaths as well as her own.

Every month, an average of 70 women are shot and killed by an intimate partner in America. Every day, 111 people are killed with firearms. Had there been a red flag law in place, a minimal step the federal government could have taken to prevent such future carnage, perhaps all three lives could have been saved. But one of Montang’s senators, Iowa Republican Joni Ernst, won’t support either. She called the red flag laws unfair for targeting people on sentiment.

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Two things are worth noting about this. First, Ernst has never expressed so much concern that black motorists are too frequently pulled over and pulled over by police for mere sentiment (also known as racial profiling). And second, the National Rifle Association has spent $3.68 million on her behalf since she first ran for federal office in 2014, placing her in the top five recipients in office.

On Wednesday, the Democratic-dominated U.S. House of Representatives passed the Protecting Our Kids Act, which would, among other things, raise the minimum age to purchase an assault rifle to 21, ban the sale of high-capacity magazines and would institute new rules on appropriate firearms. storage at home and on firearms without a serial number.

But the Senate is unlikely to follow suit as Democrats hold only 50 seats and it would take 60 votes to pass. Democrats (91%) overwhelmingly want more restrictive gun laws, but only 24% of Republicans want them, according to a Gallup poll.

And the Republicans win every time. With such NRA vote-buying abilities, don’t hold your breath for meaningful gun reform to pass.

So, instead, senators are negotiating background checks on gun buyers and red flag laws. These would allow people who suspect that a particular gun owner poses a threat to themselves or the public to file a court petition to have their guns seized for a set period of time.

The Ames shooting, which follows mass shootings of school children in Uvalde, Texas, and grocery stores in Buffalo, New York, has a chorus of Americans shouting “Enough is enough!” Uvalde and Buffalo were among at least 232 shootings this year in which four or more people were killed or injured, according to The Gun Violence Archive.

But such cries for tougher gun measures after each horrific new round have gone unanswered. And that’s even though 89% of people support background checks for all gun purchases, including private sales and gun shows; 86% support “red flag” laws; 60% want to ban high-capacity magazines; 56% would ban assault weapons sales and 52% would support mandatory assault weapons buy-back programs.

On Wednesday, all but five House Republicans voted against the Protect Our Children Act. There is a financial incentive. Just search for NRA contributions and research the names of Republican politicians who oppose such legislation.

In his speech a week prior, President Joe Biden called for an assault weapons ban, expanded background checks and red flag laws. But he pointed out that the majority of Senate Republicans don’t even want those proposals debated, let alone voted on.

After the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting in Parkland, Florida in 2018, Students Demand Action became active. “Sometimes it takes a huge tragedy like the Parkland shooting to open people’s eyes, wake them up and motivate them,” said gun violence survivor Julia Spoor, 17, at the time. “But I think we have that right now.”

She was quoted in Michelle Roehm McCann’s 2019 book “Enough Is Enough.”

But since 2018, there have been 119 school shootings in the United States. Guns are now the leading cause of death among adolescents and young adults.

It’s like America being held hostage by a foreign power that shoots 117,345 of our people every year and kills 111 every day with guns. But the majority of citizens and the president can do nothing to stop it as long as there are enough holdouts in Congress.

In 2016, the NRA spent a record – more than $419 million – to, among other things, elect Donald Trump and Republicans to the US House and Senate. The money was also spent on legislative programs and public affairs, according to an audit obtained and shared by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Sen. Chuck Grassley benefited from over $224,937 in NRA spending and has a current campaign ad boasting his endorsement, as well as Donald Trump’s and more. That prompted nonprofit group Progress Iowa to appeal to Grassley last week to take him down. But I say let it go. Iowans and the nation should see the senator’s real priorities.

Here’s a simple thing you can do as a voter. Before you vote in November, check out contributions from NRA candidates. The website has good results. See if these correlate with their positions on gun safety. If they want to point in any direction other than sensible gun reform measures in response to these mounting tragedies, ask yourself why. And then, for heaven’s sake, for the love of the children – for the love of your own conscience – vote for someone else.

Rekha Basu is a columnist for the Des Moines Register. Readers can email him at

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