Gun control in Northwest Iowa

gun controlEveryone has a Facebook these days – even the sheriff of Sioux County.  Every morning when Sheriff Dan Altena sits down to open up his social media account, he is bombarded by the same topic – gun control.

Citizens, some angry, some concerned and confused, ask questions.

“Can someone let the public know where our sheriff stands on this issue?” one Facebook user asks.

Another wants to know about the list of weapons permit holders in the county. “This doesn’t seem like it would ‘protect and defend’ your citizens,” she says.

The numbers on that list do appear to give cause for concern.

Already, 128 new weapons permits have been issued since the beginning of 2013 in Sioux County; this is compared to only 405 issued throughout the 2012 year.

“I believe the reason for the increase is two-fold,” said Altena. “The fear is that there will be new gun control laws so many are getting the permits now in hopes that they will be grandfathered in. Also, just plain fear of current and impending violence. People feel they need to protect themselves.”

This follows an even broader trend throughout the state. Among the nation, Iowa has one of the highest percentage of armed adults – 10.3% of the population hold active weapons permits in the state.

“Most residents of Sioux Center are opposed to gun control since we live in a very conservative Republican county,” said Jeff Taylor, professor of Political Studies at Dordt.  “Opposition to gun control is strongest in rural and small-town areas of the country, which describes much of our state.”

Amongst Sioux County residents, there appears to be strong opposition to the gun control advocates.

“I think of gun control as prohibiting guns,” said Dordt sophomore Liz Boender. “But I honestly don’t see much use in gun control laws because there are holes in everything, all laws. There are ways to interpret everything.”

Kayla Veenstra, a Dordt sophomore native to Iowa, said, “None of my family member’s ever had a gun in our house, but I do think it’s our right with the second amendment to bear arms, and I don’t think the government has the right to take that away.”

However, Veenstra points out a unique situation that the gun control dialogue brings to light.

“Many people who have permits don’t necessarily know how to handle weapons very well and they certainly don’t know how to respond in a situation that may call for them to use the weapon,” said Altena.

Altena’s concerns are well-founded.  According to, unintentional firearm injuries caused the deaths of 606 people in 2010.

“The U.S. General Accounting Office has estimated that 31% of unintentional deaths caused by firearms might be prevented by the addition of two devices: a child-proof safety lock and a loading indicator,” according to the website.

These statistics are one of the most condemning arguments against the gun rights factions.  It can be extremely difficult to control what citizens do with their weapons once they have them in their private possession.  However, those in favor of gun rights also point out the futility and circular reasoning of enacting more laws to control the lawless.

Kerri Oostra, longtime resident of Sioux County, said, “There are thousands of people who use guns responsibly to hunt, for recreation, to protect their livestock and even their homes and families. Then there are people who use guns for no other reason than to kill other human beings. But we have no control over those people’s intentions. These people will get guns one way or another, whether it’s legal or not.”

However, this mindset does not stem the tide of gun control voices that inevitably rise up during any time of violent crisis in this country.

“I believe the President, and many other legislators want to do something to stop all the violence,” said Altena. “Gun control is the first place most people run toward when there are incidents like Sandy Hook. My 34 years in law enforcement and the education I’ve had surrounding violent acts involving guns have shown me that it’s a very complex problem—not on that is easily solved.”

In addition to the complexity of the circumstances, Taylor speaks to the calling that many in northwestern Iowa feel – that is, to address the situation form a Christian perspective.

“I think we ought to look at the question of weapons and violence not only from constitutional, historical, and effective-policy perspectives but also from a biblical perspective,” Taylor said.  “That seems to be missing entirely from the gun control debate.  As Christians, that’s a big oversight.”

Kristina Heflin, Staff Writer

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