John Paschen

Paschen: Give sheriffs power to stop handgun purchases


Democratic congressional candidate John Paschen says county sheriffs across the nation should be able to prohibit citizens they identify as unstable from buying handguns.

What’s more, Paschen, an Ames physician who says he’s prepared to lose a political race over his outspoken views on gun control, has called multiple times in recent public sessions and interviews for a ban on assault rifles.

His two opponents in the June 5 Democratic primary — J.D. Scholten of Sioux City and Leann Jacobsen of Spencer — have strongly criticized the National Rifle Association, but have not gone nearly as far as Paschen with their calls for tighter controls on access to firearms. The three candidates are seeking to challenge Republican Congressman Steve King in November.

“It used to be in this state that the county sheriff was able to interview people before they got their handgun, before they were allowed to buy their weapon, and that’s been taken away from them,” Paschen said during a forum last week at Iowa State University. “That needs to come back. That’s one of the things I would push for on a national level.”

Paschen is also clear and direct about how he wants to regulate certain weapons.

“I feel we have to stand for an assault-rifle ban,” Paschen said at the forum sponsored by student Democrats. “We gotta stand for it. We gotta continue to talk about it.”

Paschen also made the case for an assault-weapons ban at the recent launch of Manning Democrat Peter Leo’s campaign for the statehouse at Swan Lake State Park and in several interviews with this newspaper. Leo, for his part, is supporting Scholten in the congressional primary.

Paschen said in an interview that sheriffs should have the “final say” on who can purchase a handgun, a measure he says is common-sense reform.

“I think the sheriff in most of our communities will have a pretty good idea of the character of person who’s trying to buy a handgun,” Paschen said.

He said law-enforcement officers may know about domestic-abuse scenarios and suicidal tendencies that aren’t part of the public record — but could lead to reasonable decisions to prevent certain people from buying guns.

Asked about potential concerns of giving sheriffs unchecked power over citizens exercising their Second Amendment rights, Paschen said, “I know, I know, that’s why they backed off on it.”

On Jan. 1, 2011, Iowa became a shall-issue state, stripping sheriffs of their personal discretion over whether to issue permits to carry a dangerous weapon.

Paschen — who wants the law-enforcement reach to go further, into actual purchasing regulation, not just carry permits — said he doesn’t think his positioning on gun ownership will cost him an election in the largely conservative, rural 4th District.

“I don’t think I’ll lose the election,” Paschen said. “I think we’re in a bellwether position right now. I think that people are starting to realize that we have to have common-sense gun laws.”

That said, in the Ames forum, Paschen said he’s willing to cost himself a seat in Congress with the comments on guns.

“Right. I am,” Paschen said in a follow-up interview. “I think it’s so important. I’m a pediatrician. What I care about is children.”

At the Carroll event, Paschen said western and central Iowans have a hard time dealing with discussions on guns.

“Like it or not, we have a gun culture in the 4th District in Iowa,” Paschen said.

During those remarks, he also supported government buy-back programs for guns.

Craig Williams, chairman of the Carroll County Republican Party and the treasurer for King’s campaign, said Paschen’s views on guns are wildly out of step with the district.

“John Paschen has said that he wants to make the National Rifle Association a ‘badge of shame for anyone who associates themselves with it’ and now he says the 4th District of Iowa has a ‘gun culture,’ ” Williams said. “What we have in the 4th District is a culture of protecting and exercising our constitutional rights and gun-grabbing liberals like Paschen clearly do not understand the people they pretend to represent.”

For his part, Scholten, a former Minor League baseball player, said he doesn’t want take guns away from Americans, but he wants to limit the influence of the NRA.

“Those Parkland kids are absolutely amazing aren’t they?” Scholten said in Ames. “What they’ve been able to do in pushing the needle themselves has been absolutely wonderful.”

Jacobsen, who grew up in a household with a father who hunted and has been around guns her “entire life,” said lawmakers can strike a balance between Second Amendment rights and public safety.

“To hear our students of today self-identify as a school-shooting generation is heartbreaking,” Jacobsen said. “And it is a shame for our country, and we have to do something.”

Jacobsen, a Spencer city councilwoman, said she would consider an “assault weapons ban” similar to one that Congress passed in 1994.

“We need to look at that,” she said.

Jacobsen also wants to review potential bans on high-capacity ammunition magazines and bump stocks, attachments that allow semi-automatic rifles to fire in quick succession, similar to automatic firearms.

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