Why does Iowa need to amend our state constitution recognize and protect the right to keep and bear arms? It might seem redundant, as the Bill of Rights already states “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Also, the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that the Second Amendment protects an individual right in the landmark Heller case a few years ago. So how could this be necessary?
Iowa is currently one of only six states that lack constitutional protection for these fundamental natural rights. While some state-level gun rights provisions were adopted in the era of George Washington and others have been added in recent decades, they have all been designed to protect individuals from an overreaching state government. The language of many is even more direct, and specific than is the Second Amendment. State constitutions are an essential part of federalism in that they define and limit the powers of state governments to prevent the erosion of individual rights. While the Second Amendment to our federal Constitution enshrines our right to keep and bear arms in the Bill of Rights, several states have failed to protect those rights in their constitutions — or, worse, in practice. Regarding the lack of state constitutional protection, Iowa is currently in the company of New York, California, New Jersey, and Maryland, all states that are openly hostile to gun rights.
A so-called “Assault Weapons Ban” in Maryland that banned commonly owned rifles was recently ignored by the Supreme Court after judges on a lower court determined that military weapons had no Second Amendment protection. The fact that it is estimated over 5 million Americans own an AR-15 and not one military in the world uses them didn’t matter in the end for the people of Maryland.
Judges in California have ruled against individual’s rights to open gun stores and obtain concealed carry permits.
Instances of judges in these six states trampling individuals’ second amendment rights are far too frequent. Of direct concern to Iowans, the justices of the Iowa Supreme Court had recently usurped legislative power when they directly contradicted the Iowa Legislature by barring legally concealed carry holders from Iowa courthouses. Judges are to interpret the law, not create it, but it has become clear that the citizens must be protected from an overreaching judiciary that can set back the rights of an entire state.
Both the courts and statehouses have been battlefields for gun rights in recent years as both sides are frustrated with the lack of movement in Washington, D.C. Our state government has taken several leaps forward in enhancing gun rights since a “shall issue” law for weapons permits was enacted in 2010 with bipartisan support. Restrictions on supervised youth shooting, the privacy of weapons permit information, legalization of suppressors and short-barreled rifles, stand your ground legislation, and numerous other enhancements have all been implemented since then. At every step, organizations and editorial boards who oppose gun rights have offered dire warnings and hyperbole, but our state has seen no adverse effect in public safety, while the essential rights of many have been recognized and protected. During the same period, bans on semi-automatic weapons and similar measures have been proposed but gained little traction.
The gains of recent years and fundamental, Second Amendment rights must not be left vulnerable to either a runaway legislature or activist judge that gets them in their crosshairs. A retrograde SCOTUS decision or adverse development on the federal can set back meaningful rights for Iowans just as fast as our state legislature.
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A constitutional amendment that offers modern language defining the rights of Iowans to possess and use firearms will protect those rights for many generations. Representatives and Senators who spoke in opposition to the firearms omnibus bill in 2017 almost unanimously stated their support of the Second Amendment, before denouncing the specific bill. With the amount of support indicated for the Second Amendment in the Capitol last year, this amendment should advance with bipartisan approval and be recognized by an overwhelming majority as a win for individual rights in Iowa.
• Derek Drayer is a member of the Iowa Firearms Coalition