Candidates take shotgun approach to firearm issues

Kathie Obradovich, The Des Moines Register

One day, four presidential candidates. That’s by no means a record in Iowa, but not bad on a day when there were no multi-candidate events.

It was simply a coincidence that two Democrats and two Republicans had appearances within eight miles of each other over a 10-hour period on Friday.

Republican Carly Fiorina spoke to a Rotary chapter at the Wakonda Club at 7 a.m.; Democrat Martin O’Malley spoke to at an Iowa Caucus Consortium event at the State Historical Building over the noon hour. Then Democrat Bernie Sanders joined a roundtable sponsored by Every Child Matters at 2:30 p.m. and Republican John Kasich held a town hall at Doll Distributing on the city’s northeast side at 5 p.m.

Then, since I hadn’t quite maxed out on politics for the week, I caught Republican Chris Christie on Saturday morning in Des Moines and Ankeny.

One of the great privileges voters in Iowa enjoy is the ability to hear all of the candidates address questions on particular issues, or maybe even ask questions themselves. For example, I heard an Ankeny Democrat, John Olsen, query three candidates on autism. O’Malley, Kasich and Christie all said more needs to be done.

I asked Fiorina and Kasich about the president’s role in addressing gun violence, and heard other voters ask O’Malley and Christie (the latter with explosive results). Sanders also briefly commented at a later town hall meeting in West Des Moines. While no one vaulted out of party boundaries, each candidate took a slightly different angle.

Fiorina sighed deeply before answering. “You know, there are shootings every day, all over this country. It’s a terrible thing. And so many of those shootings happen where the gun control laws that the president favors are in place. So I think the tragedy of all of these shootings, whether it’s Louisiana, or Chattanooga or South Carolina is that they get politicized so fast and it doesn’t help to solve the problems.”

I’m thinking that the real tragedy of these shootings is the loss of innocent life. But hey, I’m not running for president. Anyway, her point was that we need to enforce the laws already on the books and the president shouldn’t remark only on those incidents that illustrate his political agenda while ignoring the rest.

Moving on. O’Malley, the former Maryland governor, fielded a question about gun control from a young boy named Campbell. O’Malley said he respects and supports hunting, “but I don’t believe we should allow combat weapons to be sold on the streets of our cities,” he said.

He touted the approval of “comprehensive” gun control in Maryland, including an assault weapons ban, a ban on magazines with more than 10 rounds, and a requirement for background checks, including fingerprints for all firearm sales. He said violent crime in his state had dropped to 30-year lows by the end of his time as governor.

Kasich, the governor of Ohio, signed legislation in December 2014 that relaxed conceal-carry restrictions. He and Christie both have taken heat for past support of assault-weapons bans in the 1990s; both have since flipped on that issue.

But when asked about gun control on Friday, Kasich focused on mental health. He noted his state has increased beds for treatment of the mentally ill. “In terms of gun violence, I think taking people’s guns away isn’t going to fix it. I don’t think it’s the answer to it. It’s to find out what is troubling these people,” he said. Asked about how to keep guns away from the mentally ill who might be violent, he says there are processes in place for that.

Sanders addressed guns briefly at his evening rally in West Des Moines. He also professed respect for hunters but noted he has voted for assault-weapon bans and closing the gun-show loophole and against instant background checks.

He said he thinks the role he can play is to bridge the “cultural divide” between rural and urban areas and bring people together on “common sense” gun control.

Common sense? Chris Christie’s got your common sense! He went all Jersey up in the grill of a gun-rights advocate who was trying to challenge him from the right.

“I vetoed the .50-caliber ban. I also vetoed the law that was passed and sent to my desk, to reduce magazine size from 15 (rounds) to 10,” Christie said, adding that he also vetoed a statewide gun owner identification program. “Now is that someone who is anti-gun rights and anti-gun?”

Christie blasted the man, who didn’t identify himself, for misrepresenting his record. “I’m still waiting for one fact from you, one fact about me being anti-gun. Give me one. One fact. Got one?”

The audience ate it up, perhaps less because of their enthusiasm for guns than the fact they finally got to see the famously volatile Christie unleashed.

Speaking of eating, I have to close with one other clear contrast between candidates during Friday’s roundup: State Fair food positions.

O’Malley, the former Maryland governor, offered a safe and unremarkable preference when asked about food at the Iowa State Fair: Pork chop on a stick.

Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, volunteered her own preference: “I also want to say, in front of all these reporters over here, that when I come to the State Fair, and I’m looking forward to that, but I have one rule which I won’t violate: No food on a stick.”

She got a laugh and there is sound reasoning for staying away from corn dogs. But I have to give the win to O’Malley on this point — food on a stick is right up there with the Butter Cow when it comes to sacred State Fair icons. No matter: Spending a day and a half with five presidential candidates offered plenty of food for thought

Originally published July 27, 2015 The Des Moines Register