116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Amid a laundry list of terrible tough-on-crime bills in the Iowa Legislature this year, there is at least one silver lining — a new law making it easier to legally get guns.
As of Thursday, Iowans no longer need a permit to carry or acquire handguns, a policy supporters often call “constitutional carry.” That’s a longtime priority of the right-wing 2nd Amendment movement, and it also is shown to have a beneficial impact on racial disproportionality and government spending in the justice system.
Iowa’s former permitting system was a relic of our racist history, meant to give law enforcement officials control over who’s allowed to have a gun.
With the new laxer gun laws, legislative analysts expect the state to see 600 fewer convictions each year and save between $2.2 million and $4.7 million annually in court and corrections costs. It’s the type of smart-on-crime reform Iowa Democrats should support, but chose not to in the House and Senate this year.
Under previous law, Black Iowans were convicted of acquiring or carrying a gun without a permit at about 7 times the rate as the total population. That’s similar to the racial disparity found in Iowa’s marijuana arrests, according to ACLU figures last year showing Iowa is the fifth-worst in the nation in over-arresting Black people for pot.
Like many gun control regulations, Iowa’s former permitting system was a relic of our racist history, meant to give law enforcement officials control over who’s allowed to have a gun. Even if it’s not what majority Republican lawmakers had in mind, their “constitutional carry” law in effect is a criminal justice reform policy.
Even the people who wrote and ratified the 2nd Amendment didn’t think everyone should be allowed to own weapons. In early America, both enslaved and free Black people often were prohibited from having firearms, a precaution against Black rebellion.
More than a century later, Black gun ownership became the catalyst for the modern gun control movement.
In 1967, Black Panthers staged armed demonstrations at the California statehouse, openly carrying long guns on the capitol steps and through the halls of the building. White policymakers were disturbed at the scene — the Democrat-controlled legislature quickly passed and Republican Gov. Ronald Reagan signed a law outlawing public carry of loaded firearms.
Gun restrictionists have since tamped down their racial motivations, but the effect of their policies remains much the same. As with most criminal laws, Black people are more likely to be targets of enforcement.
Iowa in 2011 enacted the first meaningful step toward winding down the racist war on guns. The Legislature passed a bipartisan “shall issue” bill, requiring sheriffs to issue permits to all eligible applicants. Before that, sheriffs had discretion to withhold permits and applicants had little recourse, a system clearly susceptible to discrimination.
Police were overwhelmingly opposed to “shall issue” and even after its passage some anti-gun sheriffs dragged their feet on approving permits. The new “constitutional carry” law allows Iowans to get guns without their sheriff’s approval, removing potentially racist law enforcers from the transaction.
“The relationship between your state government and the citizen is going to be flipped 180 degrees. America, from the beginning, the great experiment, the point was that the citizen was a free individual and could conduct themselves as they saw fit until they infringed on the rights of others,” State Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, said in a recent video for Iowa Firearms Coalition.
That wasn’t the case when our country was founded, but it gets closer to reality with Iowa’s new gun freedoms.
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