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‘I should not be predicting my death’: Iowa City students lead march to demand action on gun violence


Protesters march from College Green Park to the Pentacrest calling for action to stop gun violence, June 13, 2022. — Paul Brennan/Little Village

For most students who are getting ready to start high school in the fall, a hot, humid Monday morning in June is a good time to sleep in. But a dedicated group of students about to make the transition to high school decided instead to march on Monday to demand action on gun violence.

About 20 people, most in their mid-teens with a handful of adult supporters — including Johnson County Supervisor Jon Green, Iowa City Councilmember Janice Weiner and Elinor Levin, the Democratic candidate in Iowa House District 89 — gathered at College Green Park before marching to the Pentacrest for a brief rally.

The first speaker at the Pentacrest was Sasha Ackerman, one of the organizers. Ackerman, who is 14, explained she and her friends decided to organize the protest following the mass murder at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24.

“It shouldn’t have taken another school shooting for people to realize there’s a gun violence crisis happening right now,” Ackerman said. “But it did.”

Ackerman read out the names of the 19 students and two teachers killed in Uvalde, and asked for a moment of silence in their memory.

Sasha Ackerman speaking at protest calling for action on gun violence at the Pentacrest, June 13, 2022. — Paul Brennan/Little Village

When Zee Lauer came to the mic, she talked about how the threat created by the failure of the government to address easy access to semiautomatic firearms and extended magazines that hold dozens of bullets has been a constant feature of her school days.

“Since the fifth grade I have had countless plans on what I would do if I was in a school shooting,” Lauer said. “I have made different plans for every classroom, and when I left elementary school and started middle school, I did the same thing. I’m going to City High next year and one of the first things I’m going to do is memorize the school and make another plan.”

“I should not have to worry about these things. I should not be predicting my death. I should be gossiping about who broke up with who with my friends, but instead we’re talking about the nearest exit in our classroom and how to break a window without getting hurt for if someone walked into our school intending to kill us.”

There has been no gun control legislation passed at the federal level in more than a decade, and there has been a rollback of laws at the state level. Last year, Gov. Reynolds signed a new law eliminating the need to obtain a license before buying or owning a firearm. Also last year, Republicans in the Iowa Legislature pushed through on party-line votes a gun rights amendment to the Iowa Constitution. The proposed amendment goes further than even the Supreme Court’s most expansive interpretations of the 2nd Amendment, requiring that all gun regulation in Iowa be subjected to a “strict scrutiny” standard of legal review.

In practical terms, that standard would cause state courts to find almost any gun regulation to be unconstitutional. The proposed amendment still needs to be approved by voters before it can be added to the constitution. It will be on the ballot in the November election.

Peter Brozene speaking at the Pentacrest during the protest demanding action on gun violence, June 13, 2022. — Paul Brennan/Little Village

Speaking to Little Village after the rally concluded, Peter Brozene, one of the organizers, said events like Monday were important to make sure focus was maintained on the issue of gun violence.

“We needed to get our voices heard,” Brozene said. “What I’ve noticed is social media makes it very easy to spread the word about stuff, but also the topics change very quickly. A tragedy will happen and people will post about for a couple days, and then just move onto something else.”

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that included provisions raising the age for buying most semiautomatic rifles and magazines that hold more than 15 bullets, and bans untraceable “ghost guns.” The three Republican representatives from Iowa in the House voted against it, and Rep. Cindy Axne, the lone Democrat in Iowa’s congressional delegation, voted for it. Also, last week the House passed a bill creating a “red flag law” at the federal level, allowing a judge to order the temporary removal of firearms from someone determined to be a threat to themselves or others. Again, the three Republicans voted against it, and Axne supported it.

Republicans in the U.S. Senate are expected to filibuster both bills, prevent the Senate from voting on them or even debating them.

Over the weekend, a group of senators, including 10 Republicans, reached an agreement in principle on a set of gun control measures, much more modest than what the House passed. So far, the legislation the agreement calls for has not been drafted, but if all 10 Republicans vote for it when it is introduced in the Senate, that will be enough to overcome a filibuster.

On Saturday, there were events calling for gun control sponsored by March for Our Lives in cities across the country, including Cedar Rapids and Des Moines.

Zee Lauer holding a sign at the Pentacrest protest calling for action on gun violence, June 13, 2022. — Paul Brennan/Little Village

Asked if he was hopeful the current push for gun reform would result in meaningful change this time, Brozene said, “I want to believe that things will change, but I’m not sure.”

“If they don’t I’m going to keep coming out here, keep hosting protests, keep making my voice heard until something does change, because it needs to change.”


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