She was dead.
The woman lay on her back in the middle of the street. Her eyes were open and staring up at the sky, clouds reflecting on the haze forming over them. Pools of thick, dark syrup formed under her back, her life blood oozing out across the black asphalt around her body.
I was there when she died.
It's a hell of a thing, death. Anyone who has been around it knows about that moment when someone goes from being a person to a thing. It's a curiosity, almost magical in a way. You can't help but be mesmerized.
Dying is a threshold we all have to step over someday, and your instincts force you to watch someone else do it, perhaps to see if you can learn some secret — a secret that will help you the moment you cast off your own mortality.
But this was a time when the line was crossed too soon and for no good reason: This woman was shot and killed by her jealous ex-boyfriend.
"She wouldn't talk to me," he told officers as they put the cuffs on him. He'd followed her all the way to Iowa from Florida, illegally purchasing his firearm from some other criminal before he made the trip. "I just wanted to talk to her," he said between his incoherent mumbling.
The guy was completely insane, and she was completely defenseless.
I worked for two different sheriff's departments before coming back to school, and I've seen and dealt with some of the worst of humanity. For example, we had a guy in our jail who raped a woman so violently that he broke every bone in her face. She survived the encounter but endured a great many surgeries to repair the damage.
When I'm not at school, you can probably find me working at Jax Outdoor in the hunting and fishing department. Because of my job, I'm in daily contact with people — women quite often — who are interested in firearms for protection. Just the other day, an awesome couple, Trevor and Jessica, came in to buy their very first handgun.
Trevor had taken his concealed carry class and had his permit, but both were taking their first steps toward joining one of the oldest and most critical of American traditions: firearms ownership and carry. They had a long journey ahead of them, but like many customers I talk to at Jax, both Trevor and Jessica were interested in taking responsibility for their own safety.
It might come as a surprise to many, but Jessica was the most excited of the two. An ISU student herself, she was as stoked as could be about the prospect of getting her own training and handgun someday. Jessica understood a critical fact that fortunately many women are realizing these days: When seconds count, the police are minutes away.
It's a harsh reality, but unless you carry a cop on your back everywhere you go, when a violent crime happens, only you will be there to help yourself.
Last week, the Daily's Editorial Board published an editorial suggesting that legislators were wasting their time in proposing an amendment to the Iowa Constitution to guarantee the right to keep and bear arms. The argument was that after Supreme Court case McDonald v. Chicago, which incorporated the Second Amendment to the states, any such amendment to a state constitution was redundant.
There is certainly logic there. However, we columnists here at the Daily tend to be all philosophical about government and law. I admit I may be the worst offender on these pages.
We can provide all sorts of heady arguments about how our government is the people and is therefore not an entity separate from us. Or about how rights aren't granted by the government; that we have the right to defend ourselves no matter what the law says. And every one of those arguments would be true.
Except the world doesn't work that way in practice.
Government now is an all-powerful force separate from the people, completely capable of dominating our lives. We are ruled by laws, good and bad, and the outcome of our lives can hang in the balance of what laws are made and what rights are dissolved. The government can — and sometimes does — legislate our rights away.
McDonald was just a lucky break. What if the decision had gone the other way? What if the court changes its mind in a ruling later?
Yes, Iowa faces great challenges right now, and there are many important things to be done. Regardless, there is nothing more valuable than your life. I can't think of anything more important for government to do than protect your ability to protect that life, especially in an era when government appears to be acquiring as much power and authority over our lives as possible.
You might not like guns, and that's OK; you don't have to get one. But can you look a wonderful woman like Jessica in the eye and tell her that her life isn't valuable enough to defend, both with law and force, if necessary? If the primary function of government is to protect our rights, then the proposed amendment to Iowa's Constitution cannot, by definition, be a waste of time, regardless of our other problems.
The future is uncertain. Support the amendment; it supports you.