As leaders debate action, gun reform advocates will don orange and demonstrate in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids Saturday

Wear Orange Iowa City

Wetherby Park, 2400 Taylor Dr, on Saturday, June 4 at 2 p.m.

Wear Orange Cedar Rapids

Bever Park, 2700 Bever Ave SE, on Saturday, June 4 at 1 p.m.

Community members gather for the Wear Orange event at College Green Park, hosted by Moms Demand Action. Saturday, June 2, 2018. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

Iowa City and Cedar Rapids will both have Wear Orange events on Saturday to mark National Gun Violence Awareness Day. The Iowa City event in Wetherby Park (2400 Taylor Dr) begins at 2 p.m., and will include “speakers, kids’ activities, and a peace walk affirming commitment to a future free from gun violence,” according to its host, the Johnson County chapter of Moms Demand Action.

In Cedar Rapids, the Wear Orange event starts at 1 p.m. in Bever Park (2700 Bever Ave SE).

“Our event will be painting rocks again this year,” the Cedar Rapids chapter of Moms Demand Action said. “Smaller ones can be taken home and larger ones will eventually be placed in the Healing Garden.”

Wear Orange events have been held nationwide since 2016, and the movement was inspired by the activism of Chicago high school students.

In January 2013, Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old honor student, was killed when a gang member mistook her for someone else and shot her in the back. Some of her classmates organized Project Orange Tree in response to her death. In the effort to raise awareness about gun violence, the students held everything from town hall meetings and candlelight vigils to fundraisers and poetry slams. They also decided to encourage everyone to wear hunter orange on one day to make their campaign visible to the general public.

The idea spread, and was embraced by organizations including Moms Demand Action, which was founded to address the problem of gun violence following the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

This year’s events come in the wake of the murder of 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, by an 18-year-old who had legally purchased two semi-automatic rifles on credit, and the murder of 10 people in Buffalo, New York, by an 18-year-old white supremacist using a legally purchased semiautomatic rifle, as well as over 200 other mass shootings in the United States so far this year, according to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive. (The archive uses the standard definition of a mass shooting: a single incident in which four or more people, not including the shooter, are shot or killed.)

Wear Orange supporters marches from College Green Park to the Farmers Market. Saturday, June 2, 2018. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

The murders in Uvalde were the country’s most deadly school shooting since Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, when a 20-year-old armed with a legally purchase semiautomatic rifle murdered 20 children and six teachers and school staff members. Despite more than 3,500 mass shootings since Sandy Hook (including the 2017 Parkland, Florida high school shooting, which sparked the March for Our Lives movement and, in turn, the local group Students Against School Shootings, or SASS), there has been little action by the federal government to advance gun control, because Republican senators unified in opposition to even minor gun control bills have the filibuster and other Senate procedures to stop legislation.

In March 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Enhanced Background Checks Act, which would require background check through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System databases to be conducted before the transfer of firearms between private parties. Currently only licensed gun dealers are required to conduct background checks to the sale of guns to felons, the severely mentally ill and other prohibited from owning guns. Republican opposition to the bill has stopped the Senate from debating or voting on it.

In December, following a school shooting in Michigan in which a 15-year-old armed with a legally purchased semiautomatic handgun killed four students and wounded seven others, Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut asked for unanimous consent to finally pass the background check bill.

In an impassioned speech on the Senate floor, Murphy said a background check “saves lives, decreases gun violence, decreases violent crime.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley objected to the request for unanimous consent, stopping all action on the bill.

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Grassley called the requirement for unlicensed gun sellers, such as vendors at gun shows, to conduct instant background checks “hostile towards lawful gun owners and lawful firearm transactions.”

“So-called universal background checks will not prevent crime and will turn otherwise law-abiding citizens into criminals,” Grassley said.

Iowa’s senior senator then asked for unanimous consent to pass a background check bill he co-sponsored with Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. Murphy objected, pointing out Grassley’s bill is in “large part” a “massive contraction of the universal background check system.”

At the state level, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill into law last year that eliminated the state’s requirement for a person to be licensed to buy or carry a gun. Before that law took effect on July 1, 2021, anyone wanting to buy or carry a firearm needed a license from their county sheriff’s office, which was issued after an instant background check. The permit had to be renewed every five years.

Member of Students Against School Shootings march from College Green Park to the Pedestrian Mall for the March for Gun Safety. Tuesday, March 30, 2018. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

That bill received final approval from the Iowa Senate on a party-line vote on March 17, 2021, the same day that a 21-year-old armed with a legally purchased semiautomatic rifle and pistol killed 10 people in a mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado. In the 16 days between the Senate passing the bill and Reynolds signing it, there were another 20 mass shootings in the United States. When Reynolds signed the bill, the NRA praised her in a tweet.

Also in 2021, Republicans in the Iowa Legislature pushed through a gun rights amendment to the Iowa Constitution on party-line votes. The bill would require courts to hold a “strict scrutiny standard” when ruling on gun laws. In practice, it would prevent almost any future gun control law passed in Iowa from taking effect. To be added to the constitution, the amendment must be approved by Iowa voters. It will be on the ballot in this November’s general election.

Asked by reporters last week what, if anything, she planned to do in response to protect Iowa students following the murders in Uvalde, Reynolds dismissed the idea of new gun control measures.

“There is evil that exists in the world,” the governor said. “And if you’re determined to do something like this, you’re probably going to find the means to do it.”

Reynolds said the state should continue to work on improving the availability of mental health treatment, and said she wants to use federal COVID-19 relief funds to create digital models of schools, so police and paramedics would have accurate building maps if they need to respond to a school shooting.

Reynolds’ Democratic challenger for governor, Deidre DeJear, has criticized the governor’s stance and called for universal background checks and other action on gun violence.

“Rather than prayers, let’s commit to using two of the best gifts God’s given us: compassion and common sense. This isn’t ‘their’ problem,” DeJear tweeted on May 24, referring to Texas, New York and other states that have recently experienced mass shootings. “It’s ours.”

“Feeling angry? Grieved? Horrified? Helpless?” Moms Demand Action Iowa asks on its Facebook page. “Wanting to do something in the wake of the horrific tragedy in Uvalde but not sure what to do?”

“There’s a place for YOU with us. Join the mothers and others who are working toward an end to gun violence.”

Anyone interested in finding their nearest Moms Demand Action group can do so by texting ACT to 644-33.