This week’s Moral Monday at the Capitol focused on several proposed Republican gun bills as well as the consequences of the ones they passed in 2017. The discussion was led by Representative Tim Kacena (D-Sioux City) and Scott Peterson, Chair of Iowans for Gun Safety. Over a dozen Democratic legislators attended and participated in the noon meeting.
Republicans in the Iowa House and Senate are continuing their goal of increasing the availability of guns and weakening gun control measures. They have again introduced a constitutional amendment that poses a serious danger to the public. It goes beyond the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by adding a higher standard of “strict scrutiny” that threatens to weaken Iowa’s basic restrictions on guns by limiting how courts can rule on gun laws.
Due to a bureaucratic mistake by the Secretary of State, the proposed constitutional gun amendment passed in 2017 must be reintroduced and passed again this session. The earliest it could go into effect would be 2022 since it must be passed in two consecutive legislative sessions.
Kacena opened the discussion by describing recent Republican gun bills as, “Making policy out of ideology.” He suggested many gun bills center on ideology rather than what’s best for Iowans. The proposed gun amendment to the Iowa constitution is especially worrisome because it contains the “strict scrutiny” provision. He described implementing strict scrutiny as “putting a thumb on the scale” by favoring gun rights and narrowly defining the public interest.
Gun proponents have successfully added “strict scrutiny” in other states to challenge prevailing gun control measures according to Representative Art Staed, (D-Cedar Rapids). He identified Alabama, Missouri and Louisiana as states where gun proponents have successfully challenged gun control measures. He and other legislators suggested that gun advocates believe they can leverage “strict scrutiny” to eventually eliminate nearly all restrictions on guns.
According to Peterson, adding the proposed gun amendment with strict scrutiny to Iowa’s constitution would result in a drastic change in the way judges interpret gun control measures. He described the change as “swinging to the other end of the spectrum” by limiting judges’ authority to make reasonable and meaningful review of current gun control laws.
One of the leading Democratic opponents of the constitutional amendment is Representative Mary Wolfe (D-Clinton). She agreed with Peterson that the amendment would result in elevating gun ownership. Wolfe said she believed most of our current gun restrictions would be at risk.
“Nearly every single aspect of firearms…would have to be reviewed to this high standard… (the amendment) would make it difficult for most of our gun restrictions to survive,” Wolfe explained.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) has made it absolutely clear that they believe adding “strict scrutiny” provisions to state constitutions elevate gun rights by making them immune from local gun control. The NRA has stated that, “these measures build an iron wall around your freedoms and protect them from antigun officials and activist judges.”
Peterson also expressed his groups concern about the ramifications of Iowa’s “stand your ground” provision passed by Republicans in 2017.
The stand your ground provision is currently being tested in court cases in Iowa so it’s not clear yet how far this legislation emboldens gun owners. However, research by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) suggest these laws increase homicide rates.
“Our results indicate that Stand Your Ground laws are associated with a significant increase in the number of homicides.”-NBER
One of the other gun law changes is a proposal to allow licensed gun owners to bring loaded guns into school parking lots. Currently, it’s illegal to bring loaded weapons onto school property. The proposed Republican legislation would allow legal gun owners to carry loaded guns all the way to the front door of the school. They argue it’s too inconvenient to unload and secure their guns as they walk or drive their children to school.
Representative Wes Breckenridge (D-Newton) hopes the Republicans will accept amendments that would prevent total access to the property surrounding the school by those carrying guns. He suggested drivers might be required to lock the gun in the glove box if they walked their children to the front door of the school.
It was obvious these Democratic legislators are extremely concerned about the potential for more extreme gun measures and greater relaxation of current gun controls. It’s also clear that gun proponents have friendly allies among Republican lawmakers. The question is, will Democrats be able to slow or stop this Republican driven gun momentum?
by Rick Smith
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