Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks was blunt in his assessment of Public Measure 1, which would amend the Iowa Constitution in a way that would stop most attempts to regulate guns in the state.
“This amendment is a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Maybanks said at a news conference on Tuesday at the Cedar Rapids Public Library. “This amendment is not about freedom, it’s about more senseless violence. This amendment is not about embracing any rights, it’s about seizing power from future generations.”
Iowans for Responsible Gun Laws held Tuesday’s news conference. The group is a coalition of more than 30 long-established community organizations in the state, from the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa to Iowa Mental Health Advocacy to the League of Women Voters of Iowa. The organizations are united by their opposition to Public Measure 1.
The measure would add the following amendment to the state constitution: “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The sovereign state of Iowa affirms and recognizes this right to be a fundamental individual right. Any and all restrictions of this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny.”
The amendment passed both the Iowa House and Senate in January 2021 on party-line votes, with all Republicans voting in favor and all Democrats opposing it, making it eligible to appear on this November’s ballot. According to the amendment’s Republican backers, it is not needed to address any current problems in Iowa law. Since gaining control of both chambers of the legislature in 2017, Republicans have worked on rolling back what firearms regulation Iowa had in place.
Mostly notably, last year Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into a law a bill that eliminated the requirement to have a license before purchasing or carrying a gun. That bill passed the Iowa House with the support of all its Republicans and one Democrat, and it passed the Senate on a party-line vote. The day before it passed the House, there was a mass shooting in Atlanta that killed eight people. It passed the Senate the same day that 10 people were killed in a mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado.
Proponents of Public Measure 1 claim it is necessary to ensure Iowans are protected by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, even though, of course, they already are.
“What I’m trying to do is to protect Iowans’ Second Amendment rights,” Sen. Brad Zaun, a Republican from Urbandale who was floor manager for the measure in the Senate, said when it was passed.
But when a Democrat, Sen. Tony Bisignano of Des Moines, offered an amendment that would replace the language of the measure with the text of the Second Amendment, Republicans rejected it.
“It would be irresponsible to do so,” Republican Sen. Mark Chelgren of Ottumwa said about using the actual language of the Second Amendment.
The Iowa Firearms Coalition, the most visible group backing Public Measure 1, still promotes what it calls the “Freedom Amendment” as a way of enshrining the Second Amendment in the state constitution. It also stresses that Iowa is one of only six states that doesn’t have some form of gun rights guarantee in its constitution.
Maybanks addressed this on Tuesday.
“This amendment is not just about enshrining the Second Amendment right to bear arms into the Iowa Constitution,” he said. “If that was the case, this amendment would read exactly the same as the Second Amendment and it doesn’t. This amendment is not about putting Iowa on the same page as 44 other states that have a constitutional amendment for the right to bear arms. It’s about putting us on the same page as three other states that have strict scrutiny in their constitutions.”
Those three states — Alabama, Louisiana and Missouri — are ranked second, fourth and fifth in the nation in the number of gun deaths per capita.
“This is not a top five that we want to be in,” Maybanks said.
Strict scrutiny is the highest level of judicial review. Strict scrutiny requires a law or regulation be “narrowly tailored” to achieve a “compelling state interest.” Few laws can pass this test. Even as the Republican-appointed justices of the U.S. Supreme Court have dramatically expanded gun rights over the last 14 years, the high court still applies a lower standard, intermediate review, in decisions on Second Amendment issues.
Maybanks lists some existing regulations that would likely be struck down under strict scrutiny.
• Prohibitions on possession of firearms as a felon or a domestic abuse offender
• Prohibition on carrying firearms on school grounds
• Prohibition on carrying firearms while intoxicated
• Laws allowing for the creation of weapons-free zones
• Laws that make individual ineligible to carrying firearms “if addicted to alcohol or using drug, or they have prior assault convictions”
• Laws that allow businesses to limit guns on their property
Proponents generally avoid discussing the outcomes that would result from adding the strict scrutiny language to the constitution, preferring instead to focus on general principles. Promoting the measure at the 7 Hills Event Center in Dubuque earlier this month, Iowa Firearms Coalition board member Richard Rogers even suggested the issue at hand wasn’t really gun regulation.
“I’m not a gun guy — I’m a liberty guy,” he said. “Liberty is another word for freedom, and freedom is America’s brand. [Opponents] say this a ‘reckless’ gun amendment. What’s reckless about liberty? This is a fundamental right. [The measure] is a reiteration of that right.”
On Tuesday, Maybanks focuses on the likely consequences of adding the amendment.
“This amendment is in no way being proposed in order to regain lost rights, but it will result in lost lives,” he said.
Linn County Sheriff Brian Gardner, who also spoke during the news conference, echoed Maybanks’ points.
“As written, Public Measure 1 does nothing to make you safer,” the sheriff said. “Rather, it endangers Iowans, as it prohibits current and future common-sense gun laws by the use of the strict scrutiny language.”
Gardner pointed out that his department and other law enforcement agencies would be facing lawsuits for trying to enforce basic firearm regulations.
“At a time of rising gun violence failing to allow for common-sense gun laws, it makes absolutely no sense and greatly endangers all of us,” the sheriff said.
In addition to the solid support of Republicans in the Iowa Legislature, the measure also has the backing of other high-profile Republicans who will be on the ballot in November. The Iowa Firearms Coalition has posted endorsements from Gov. Reynolds, Sec. of State Paul Pate, Iowa Attorney General candidate Brenna Bird, Rep. Ashley Hinson, Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Iowa Sen. Zach Nunn, who is running against Rep. Cindy Axne in Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District.
The final speaker at the news conference on Tuesday was Connie Ryan, executive director of the Iowa Interfaith Alliance and one of the co-leaders of Iowans for Responsible Gun Laws. Ryan highlighted one of the concerns of her group: that people inclined to vote against the measure won’t see it because it will be on the back of the ballot.
“We need you to flip that ballot over and we need you to vote no on Public Measure 1, the reckless gun amendment,” Ryan said.
Ryan also had advice for how people can help oppose the measure.
“What we need you to do is to talk,” she said. “To talk with your family members, to talk with your friends, to talk with folks in your office, to talk with the person before you and after you at the grocery store. Wherever this issue comes up in conversation, we need you to talk with folks and to help them to understand the impact it will have on Iowans public safety should it pass.”
Public Measure 1 will be on the ballot in the Nov. 8 general election. If it is approved by a simple majority of voters who fill out that section on the back of the ballot, the language in the measure will be added to the Iowa Constitution.