DES MOINES — A bipartisan group of state senators voted Tuesday to make significant changes to expand firearm rights that proponents said would protect Iowans and their constitutional rights. Meanwhile, opponents worried the bill will escalate gun violence in a state with a strong safety tradition.
“It’s a great day for Iowa, a great day for the Second Amendment,” declared Sen. Rick Bertrand, R-Sioux City, before four Democrats joined 29 majority Republicans in approving House File 517 by a 33-17 margin. The bill — opposed by 16 Democrats and one independent — goes back to the Iowa House after senators amended several provisions of the comprehensive gun rights legislation.
Included in House File 517 was a controversial “stand your ground” provision that states a law-abiding citizen does not have a duty to retreat in a public place before using deadly force when confronted with danger to life or property.
The bill also would allow children below the age of 14 to handle pistols or revolvers under the supervision of an adult parent, guardian or instructor, preempt local ordinances restricting gun rights, create a uniform permit to carry weapons and provide for five-year permits to acquire handguns rather than single-year permits.
“This is a great bill,” said Sen. Dan Dawson, R-Council Bluffs, the bill’s floor manager. Modifications and improvements were made to the House bill, he said, including a change to the “stand-your-ground” language to address concerns by requiring that a person has the duty in a reasonable amount of time after using deadly force to contact law enforcement, prohibiting the destruction of evidence or the tampering with witnesses as a defense against “bad actors,” he said.
However, opponents argued Iowans already have protections for defending themselves in deadly situations that balances the rights of gun owners with public safety and House File 517 will disrupt that balance with immunity provisions that people cannot be charged with a crime or sued if they shoot to protect themselves and their property.
“This bill presents a significant shift in our laws,” said Sen. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines.
Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, said Second Amendment rights are important but not unlimited and carry “incredible” responsibilities. She expressed concern the bill would take away government officials ability to regulate weapons in public buildings and expand the use of deadly force in Iowa.
“Members, this bill does nothing to add to the public safety,” Jochum told her colleagues during a Senate floor speech. “This bill goes too far. It is no longer balanced. This bill is not needed.”
However, backers said they were delivering long-overdue changes that their constituents have pressed for and representatives of gun-rights groups who were in the Senate gallery for Tuesday’s debate worked for years to accomplish through lobbying and political activism.
“Iowans have spoken and their legislators are answering,” said Sen. Jeff Edler, R-State Center, who told his Senate colleagues as a father of five children the proposed changes that Gov. Terry Branstad is likely to sign will guard his right to train his children about gun safety and protect his family.
Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, read from the Constitution and said Tuesday’s action was designed to restore Second Amendment rights that had been taken away. “Stand your ground is not a license to kill,” he said, noting that Iowa has court procedures and prosecutors to deal with deadly force situations.
Sen. Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa, called Tuesday “one of the most exciting days” he had in the Iowa Senate, while Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel, called the bill “the first step in moving in the right direction of affirming” Iowans’ constitutional rights, saying the bill’s provisions “come from the people of Iowa. It’s what they expect, it’s what they want, it’s what they’re demanding of us.”
Independent Sen. David Johnson of Ocheyedan tried unsuccessfully to strike the provisions dealing with local preemption and allowing Iowans with permits to bring guns into the state Capitol building. At one point he showed Dawson his permit to carry and noted he didn’t have to prove he had been properly trained to use a gun at issuance. He also took issue with a number of controversial issues being rolled into one omnibus bill rather than being dealt with individually in the legislative process.
“Iowa is a right to carry state and I think our Capitol should be a beacon of that,” Dawson countered.
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Senate Minority Leader Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, thanked majority Republicans for keeping requirements for background check and permits but argued the bill “simply goes too far” in expanding the use of deadly force and restricting local governments.
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