Republican leaders poised to eliminate gun regulations as new amendment is officially added to Iowa Constitution

Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

On Friday, Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate held a ceremony to mark Public Measure 1 becoming the latest amendment to the state constitution. The new amendment requires courts to use “strict scrutiny,” the most stringent form of judicial review, when considering existing or future regulation regarding guns. It’s a higher level of scrutiny than even U.S. Supreme Court applies in firearms cases, and will likely invalidate almost all future and current gun safety laws in the state.

Only three other states — Alabama, Louisiana and Missouri — have added strict scrutiny requirements to their constitutions. Those states are ranked second, fourth and fifth in the nation in the number of gun deaths per capita.

The new amendment is the first added to the Iowa Constitution since 2010, and only the 49th amendment since the constitution was adopted in 1857.

The text of the new amendment 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.”

Supporters of the amendment promoted it as the “freedom amendment,” and claimed it simply preserved the right to bear arms in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. But during a floor debate in the Iowa Senate over the measure, Sen. Tony Bisignano, a Democrat from 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.

Friday’s ceremony featured Republican legislative leaders and representatives of the Iowa Firearms Coalition (IFC), which led the fight to push the amendment swiftly through the legislature, then have voters approve it in the November general election.

“This is a monumental day for Iowans,” House Majority Leader Matt Windschitl, a Republican from Missouri Valley, said. “With this amendment passing with over 65 percent of the vote, having passed in 97 of 99 counties, Iowans have made their vote loud and clear.”

Windschitl has been one of the strongest advocates in the Iowa Legislature for eliminating gun regulations. He even attracted national attention in 2017 when he unsuccessfully led an effort to require the Iowa State Fair to allow attendees to carry guns.

Richard Rogers, an IFC board member, was also a featured speaker during the ceremony. He thanked Iowa Republican leaders for the support of the amendment. Every leading Republican in the state, including Paul Pate, endorsed the amendment.

After describing IFC as “truly a civil rights organization,” Rogers explained the amendment is important because it will stop any future legislation regulating guns.

“Now with the ratification of this freedom amendment as we call it, such a course will be much more difficult,” Rogers, who serves at IFC’s legislative lobbyist, said.

Speaking to reporters after the ceremony, Windschitl was asked about his plans for rolling back Iowa’s remaining gun regulations.

“There are multiple different things that we’ve been trying to get done to restore freedoms in Iowa, and we’ve not been able to get across the finish line on some of those things,” he said. “I’m not at a point right now where I’m going to discuss publicly what all those items are, but you can expect us after this victory to come back, revisit some of those issues and restore freedoms to Iowans that never should have been taken away.”

Rogers responded to questions the same way, when asked about what IFC will push for in the coming legislative session.

“There are items that we have left on the table in years past that we will seek to move again,” he said, not specifying what those items are.

There aren’t many regulations left on firearms in Iowa. Even the requirement that gun owners have a license for their weapons was eliminated by a bill Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law last year.

Currently existing gun laws that are now vulnerable to being struck down by courts under the new amendment, even if Windschitl and his legislative colleagues don’t seek their repeals, include:

• 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 an individual ineligible to carry firearms “if addicted to alcohol or using drugs, or [if] they have prior assault convictions”

• Laws that allow businesses to limit guns on their property

Friday’s ceremony marking the new amendment came two weeks after Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks and Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness released data showing increases in felony gun crimes in both counties.

“There’s just a lot more guns out there,” Lyness told the Daily Iowan. “Now that they can get a gun without a permit, then they pull out a gun to solve all the problems. That’s why we have, I think, a lot more shootings that are occurring.”

After the ceremony for the new amendment on Friday, Republican Rep. Steve Holt of Dennsion, chair of the Iowa House Judiciary Committee, told reporters access to guns isn’t an important factor in gun violence. According to Holt, the cause of gun violence is a lack of family values.

“What is happening to our country in terms of values?” he asked rhetorically. “And what is happening to our families that is leading to this?”

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