DES MOINES — Iowans with gun permits would be allowed to carry a loaded weapon while operating a snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle (ATV) — something currently prohibited even on private property — if a bill making its way through the Iowa House becomes law.
Gun-right advocates said the change is needed because the current loaded firearms prohibition does not apply to other vehicles, including bicycles and motorcycles, and hunters or landowners could be cited by law officers even on their own property if they are found in violation.
“I see this as a personal freedom measure,” said Rep. Brian Best, R-Glidden, leader of a House Natural Resources subcommittee that considered the issue Thursday.
House File 2066 would allow any of the 254,000-plus Iowans who are lawful permit-to-carry holders to have a loaded firearm in their possession — whether concealed or not — while driving or riding on off-road vehicles. Current law prohibits that practice unless the weapon is unloaded and enclosed in a carrying case, however, a non-ambulatory person may carry an uncased and unloaded firearm while operating an ATV or snowmobile.
Rep. Jarad Klein, R-Keota, said he filed the legislation after constitutes of his southeast Iowa district complained that current law was an impediment to their farming practices where they may carry a rifle on their off-road vehicles to use to protect livestock
“In farming, firearms are a tool used like other tools on the farm,” Klein said. “They should have the same rights they have in their pickups when they’re on their ATVs or side-by-sides.”
Richard Rogers, a lobbyist for the Iowa Firearms Coalition, said the issue came to light after a 2010 law change to Iowa’s gun-permit law increased the number of permit holders from around 3,000 in 2009 to more than 254,000 now. Some gun owners were being cited for violations with the threat that their weapons or vehicles would be confiscated in the process, he told lawmakers.
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“This is an overly broad law,” Rogers said. “A lot of people weren’t aware it,” he added, noting that a gun owner with a lawful permit could carry a loaded firearms while driving a truck or a car or even a bicycle but if they moved from their pickup to an ATV or snowmobile, they could be issued a citation.
Mike Heller, a lobbyist for the Iowa State Snowmobile Association, said his group opposed the measure out of safety concerns and getting access to private lands. He said snowmobile operators already have a difficult time finding places where they are allowed to ride and it would be worse if guns were involved.
“The safety is a big part of it,” he noted. That also was the concern of Rep. Liz Bennett, D-Cedar Rapids, who was worried about rollover accidents where a loaded weapon might be discharged unintentionally but Rogers said those situations would not happen with modern weapons and the number of accidental discharge has declined over the years.
Before passing the bill to full committee, the House panel approved an amendment saying a person could carry a firearm on their own property even without a permit.