Iowans overwhelmingly approve constitutional amendment that ‘prohibits current and future common-sense gun laws’

Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

Public Measure 1, which amends the Iowa Constitution to make it harder to pass new gun safety laws and easier to eliminate existing ones, was overwhelmingly approved by voters on Tuesday. Just over 64 percent of voters statewide voted yes, and the supporters of the measure prevailed in 97 of Iowa’s 99 counties. Only Johnson County and Story County had majorities that opposed it.

Sixty-seven percent of voters in Johnson County voted no on the measure, as did 50.2 percent of voters in Story County.

The measure was promoted by supporters such as the Iowa Firearms Coalition as a way of enshrining the Second Amendment in the state constitution. But the language of the new amendment goes much further than that of the Second Amendment.

When Public Measure 1 was under consideration in the Iowa Senate, Democrats offered an amendment that would have replaced its text with the exact text of the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment, but 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 amendment approved by voters on Tuesday states: “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.”

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.

Before voters approved Public Measure 1, only Alabama, Louisiana and Missouri had strict scrutiny requirements for firearm laws as part of their state constitutions.

At an Oct. 11 news conference on the potential impact of amending the Iowa Constitution, Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks listed some of the existing laws that will likely be eliminated under the strict scrutiny standard.

• 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

At the same news conference, Linn County Sheriff Brian Gardner said, “As written, Public Measure 1 does nothing to make you safer. Rather, it endangers Iowans, as it prohibits current and future common-sense gun laws by the use of the strict scrutiny language.”

Public Measure 1 was approved by 53 percent of Linn County voters.

Iowans For Responsible Gun Laws, a coalition of more than 30 long-established community organizations, from the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa to Iowa Mental Health Advocacy to the League of Women Voters of Iowa, helped lead the opposition to amending the constitution. On Wednesday morning, the group put out a statement.

“Our coalition will continue to work to support common sense and responsible gun legislation to ensure every child can go to school and every person can walk in their community knowing that they are safe from gun violence,” the group said.

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Zee Lauer holding a sign at the Pentacrest protest calling for action on gun violence, June 13, 2022. — Paul Brennan/Little Village