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Of Guns and Crime in Ames, Iowa

If Ames were to look safe and clean, it couldn’t have guns, and it couldn’t have anything as smelly and festering as its own cat house/drug den on East Lincoln Way.

Controlling the Herd

Of Guns and Crime in Ames, Iowa



Last week the Ames City Council passed the first reading of a change to Ames’ zoning code to ban home based firearms businesses. I grew up in Ames. I know Ames, and I know how Ames thinks, and I believe Ames is making a mistake based on poor thinking by continuing to make the effort to push firearms sales into quiet corners of its community.

There hasn’t been a good gun shop in Ames since the sports store that occupied prime territory on Main Street shut down in the early 80’s. I remember going in there with my parents and asking if I could go back to the gun counter to ogle the Colt pistols, Ruger Mk I and II .22 pistols and the massive Smith & Wesson .357 and .44 magnum revolvers that would line the case. I’d look at the rifles too. I wanted a .22 semi auto, or the odd Colt 5.56 semi-auto rifle that would adorn the gun rack. These guns didn’t just symbolize something out of reach because of my age, they stood for justice and safety making, and something I longed for in my pacifist, turn-the-other-cheek home.

That business shut down in the early 1980’s, and no firearms shop sporting a wide selection of popular arms has since opened in the town. Ames was an odd mixture of conservatism and liberalism – more conservative than Iowa City, yet less pragmatic than Des Moines – a town dominated by a university and the air of reflection and discourse that a university brings. It was also a small town. The town population would drop by 50 percent every summer when the college let out.

The sports store and its gun counter could have shut down because of the economy and the failure of downtowns across the country. It could have been pushed out by changing politics. I remember a protest against the expansion of nuclear powered submarines held during one Veishea parade, protesters carrying wooden sticks that held up a string several hundred feet long. Every few feet a black strip of plastic hung down, symbolizing one of these terrible submarines. As a child, I could not tell if this approach, which was a part of the approach my family took to social engagement, was the dominant paradigm in the town, but there didn’t seem to be a lot of opposition to the protest that pissed on the parade.

After that sports store closed the only place in Ames to openly buy a firearm was the Walmart on the north side of town. The guns sold there were low end hunting guns. Bolt action rifles and long barreled pump shotguns. Window shopping for home defense and personal defense was not on the list, unless you were headed out of town. That doesn’t mean there weren’t a few options in town. The pawn broker on main street had a few handguns and every once in a while a defense shotgun in his shop. Currently a search brings up eleven FFL licenses in Ames. One a pawn broker and the other ten are listed as firearms dealer/gunsmith licenses.

The gun market in Ames didn’t go away. It just got dusted under the rug for the purpose of putting on a different face than Des Moines, its metropolitan neighbor to the south or Story City and Boone, its rural cousins to the North and to the West.

The dislike for publicly recognizing firearms in town likely increased significantly after the Burger King shootout on Lincoln Way in 1989 (1). According to officers who spoke to the Police Explorer troop I was in, two athletes from the University held up the store at gunpoint, pushing the customers into the freezer, and ultimately having a bloody showdown with police after a small-framed girl working the drive-up squeezed through the tiny window and ran to find the officers on bar patrol on Main Street. No one was killed in the standoff, but both athletes were hit in the exchange of shots.

It wasn’t just the firearm business that got pushed under the rug. Crime and criminal acts were quieted, and the paper failed to report on the known seedy parts of town. If Ames were to look safe and clean, it couldn’t have guns, and it couldn’t have anything as smelly and festering as its own cat house/drug den on East Lincoln Way.

One night… continue reading…

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Contributed by Alan Murdock of The Gun Tutor.

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