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Linn County Attorney, sheriff oppose proposed gun amendment
CEDAR RAPIDS — Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks and Linn County Sheriff Brian Gardner spoke at an event Tuesday, encouraging Iowans to vote no on the proposed gun rights amendment that will be on the November ballot.
The amendment, which will be listed as public measure No. 1 on the ballot, would add the right to bear arms to Iowa’s constitution, with the stipulation that any law that attempts to restrict this right would be subject to “strict scrutiny.”
It’s the strict scrutiny part that Maybanks and Gardner opposed Tuesday at the event, hosted by Iowans for Responsible Gun Laws at the Cedar Rapids downtown library.
“This amendment is not just about enshrining the Second Amendment, right to bear arms, into the constitution. If that was the case, this amendment would read exactly the same as the Second Amendment, and it doesn’t,” Maybanks said.
Strict scrutiny is a judicial standard of review, which Maybanks described as a near impossible test. He said if the amendment passes, it would make it difficult for future gun laws to be introduced that pass the test of strict scrutiny.
Maybanks also said several existing gun laws are at risk of being overturned, including laws preventing felons and domestic abuse offenders from possessing guns.
“There are already very little gun restrictions in the state of Iowa, so this amendment is in no way being proposed in order to regain lost rights, but it will result in lost lives,” Maybanks said.
In Linn County, charges related to possessing firearms have increased in the past few years, according to Maybanks. In fiscal 2019, seven people were charged with going armed with intent, but in fiscal 2021, 30 people were charged. The county attorney’s office projects there will be 24 people charged with that crime this fiscal year.
The office also projects charging 52 people with possession of a firearm as a felon or domestic abuse offender and 28 people with intimidation with a dangerous weapon this year. In fiscal 2019, the number of those charges was 15 and eight, respectively.
Maybanks said it’s difficult to prove what factors contribute to an increase in gun crimes, but he believes it could be connected to new, less-strict gun laws in Iowa, like one passed in 2021 that allows Iowans to carry a gun without a permit.
“I don’t believe that it’s a coincidence that the rise in these violent crimes coincided with the continuing weakening and in some cases eliminating of common-sense, I would contend, gun laws in the state of Iowa,” Maybanks said.
John McLaughlin, chair of the Iowa Firearms Coalition, said while he encourages people who own guns to participate in safety training, he believes requiring permits and training can be prohibitive to some people who would like to carry firearms.
“We were born with the right to keep and bear arms to defend ourselves. We’re not going to make it onerous where an 85-year-old grandmother that has a pistol has to go through a bunch of training and go to the range for two days in a row,” McLaughlin said. “We’re all about safety. We just don’t think it should be mandated by various jurisdictions on what’s required.”
The Iowa Firearms Coalition has pushed for the adoption of the proposed amendment. McLaughlin said it’s important to ensure that the right to bear arms in Iowa cannot be infringed in the future.
McLaughlin said he believes a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, which overturned a New York gun law on the grounds that it didn’t stand up to historical precedent, imposes an even stricter bar for new gun laws than the judicial standard of strict scrutiny, making that wording in the amendment a non-issue, even though it was included on purpose.
“The reason that was put in was to prevent some lower court from coming in and randomly changing it,” McLaughlin said. “It’s to make it so it’s not just a whim of one judge here or there that decides that they’re going to change it.”
But that attempt to strengthen the amendment is the very thing that has caused opposition, according to Sheriff Gardner.
“Had Public Measure No. 1 been written to mirror the Second Amendment, all of us would have supported it and we wouldn’t be here today,” Gardner said at the event Tuesday. “But as written, Public Measure No. 1 does nothing to make us safer. Rather, it endangers Iowans as it prohibits current and future common-sense gun laws by the use of the strict scrutiny language.”
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