116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — Yet another round of mass shootings in the United States once again brings to the forefront the debate over gun regulations nationally and in Iowa.
At a grocery store in Buffalo, 10 people were killed May 14. At an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, 19 children and two adults were killed May 24. At a hospital in Tulsa, Okla., four people were shot dead June 1.
Gun violence hit home in Iowa this past week when a man shot and killed two women at a church in Ames.
Calls for gun restrictions are echoing once more across the country, including in Iowa. But here, gun regulations have trended decidedly in recent years in the direction loosening or removing restrictions.
In 2010, Democrats who then were in complete control of the state lawmaking process, changed state law from giving sheriffs discretion as to whether to issue a concealed carry permit to requiring sheriffs to issue those permits. It was described at the time as Iowa going from a “may issue” to a “shall issue” state.
The proposal passed with broad support from the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, and Gov. Chet Culver signed it into law.
“This bill strikes an appropriate balance, recognizing the rights of law-abiding Iowans guaranteed by the Second Amendment and the duty of local law enforcement officers,” Culver said at the bill-signing. “We all have a role to play in public safety. I believe this is a good bill that has the potential to keep Iowans safer.”
Stand your ground
In 2017, during the first legislative session after they gained full control of the state lawmaking process, Republicans passed a wide-ranging bill that included “stand your ground” language.
Under the law, 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.
“I have always been a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, and this legislation makes Iowa one of the most pro-Second Amendment states in the country,” Republican Gov. Terry Branstad said at a bill signing ceremony. “Expanding the freedoms and solidifying the constitutional rights of Iowans should always be a goal for our state.”
That same legislation also provided that children under the age of 14 are allowed to handle a firearm under the supervision of an adult parent, guardian or instructor.
In 2021, with a new governor but Republicans still in complete control of the lawmaking process, Iowa eliminated the need for an individual to acquire a permit in order to carry a handgun.
Such policies are often referred to as “constitutional carry” or “permit-less carry.”
“We will never be able to outlaw or prevent every single bad actor from getting a gun, but what we can do is ensure law-abiding citizens have full access to their constitutional rights while keeping Iowans safe,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a statement.
Ross Wilburn, chair of the state Democratic Party and a state legislator from Ames, at the time called the repeal of the gun permit requirement “'reckless disregard for the safety and well-being of Iowans.”
This fall, Iowa voters will decide whether to amend the Iowa Constitution to include a statement of gun rights.
The proposed language goes farther than the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Republican-written Iowa proposal includes a requirement that “strict scrutiny” be applied to gun regulations — the highest legal standard. Critics say such language would in effect make it impossible for the state or its courts to pass or uphold new gun regulations.
“The point of this is to restrict future gun control bills,” Sen. Jason Schultz, a Republican from Schleswig, said in 2021. “The rights have been taken away over the years and we are putting them back to the point where they are supposed to be.”
Sen. Kevin Kinney, a Democrat from Oxford and a retired sheriff’s deputy, was among the critics who said the language goes too far.
“I’m happy to place the Second Amendment in the Iowa Constitution,” Kinney said in 2021. “But what we’re putting into the (state) constitution is not the Second Amendment.”
Voters will be asked about the proposed constitutional amendment on general election ballots this November.
School resource officers
Many of Iowa’s largest school districts employ school resource officers — armed law enforcement officers whose responsibilities including keeping students and staff safe during school hours.
Earlier this year, the Des Moines school district — the state’s largest — eliminated its school resource officer program over concerns that Black students were being arrested at a rate six times higher than white students.
The Cedar Rapids Community School District, facing some of the same concerns about inequitable treatment, last fall amended its contract but kept Cedar Rapids officers in schools.
A proposed contract for continuing the school resource officer program after the current deal expires June 30 is expected to go before the school board this month, but one member is calling for a workshop session on the program before a vote is taken.
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