IOWA LEGISLATURE

Amid gun-safety push, Senate panel clears way for weapons on school grounds

House hearing on pre-empting local weapons ordinances also draws debate

The Iowa Capitol cupola is seen Mar 11, 2016, in Des Moines. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
The Iowa Capitol cupola is seen Mar 11, 2016, in Des Moines. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Iowans seeking to end gun violence came to the Capitol on Monday to press for gun safety laws while gun-rights proponents pressed ahead with proposals to allow more situations where Iowans with proper permits could carry their weapons legally.

A coalition of organizations pushed for what they called “common-sense” gun laws and spoke against efforts to amend language in the Iowa Constitution to specify Iowans’ right to own a gun and add heightened legal protection to that right. Backers say the “strict scrutiny” language is a protection against future attempts by lawmakers to place restrictions on the right to own a gun.

Connie Ryan, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa and a member of the We Can End Gun Violence Iowa coalition, said she is concerned the strict scrutiny provision would “bend the arc in a direction” that would change the state’s path and eventually harm children and communities.

“We’re here to say we can end gun violence in Iowa,” Ryan told a Statehouse news conference where coalition members supported background checks, raising the gun possession age to 21, and banning things such as assault-style weapons and bump stocks.

Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10-3 Monday to allow Iowans with gun permits to carry a weapon onto school grounds. Committee chairman Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, said the goal is to strengthen people’s rights after a period when Second Amendment rights were weakened. As for the proposed change to the constitution, he noted it would have to be approved by the next Iowa General Assembly and then go to voters in 2022. “Ultimately, it will be up to the voters to decide,” he said.

The battle over who should regulate firearms played out in a House Public Safety subcommittee hearing Monday on House Study Bill 615. The proposal would pre-empt local zoning regulation of the establishment, use or maintenance of shooting ranges. The bill also would extend the pre-emption of local government regulation of weapons to include firearms attachments and require that if weapons are restricted in a public space, such as a city hall, arrangements must be made to hire armed security or screen people entering the building.

Lobbyists for local government objected to the Legislature usurping local control.

Scott Peterson of Mount Vernon, representing Iowans for Gun Safety, told the three-member subcommittee that “people have more confidence in their local board of supervisors than in the Legislature” to make those decisions.

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Richard Rogers of West Des Moines, representing the Iowa Firearms Coalition, said the group’s main focus is to pre-empt local weapons regulations to prevent a patchwork quilt of regulations.

The Interfaith Alliance’s Ryan contended that gun legislation should be viewed through the lens of public safety. Nothing in the bill suggested the safety of communities had been considered, she said.

“It’s often in the best interest of the community to have a sense of local control,” she said.

Republican Reps. Steven Holt of Denison and Jarad Klein of Keota signed the bill to send it to the full committee, which Klein leads.

The discussion of the bill exposed a philosophical difference, Holt said.

“Everyone wants to cut down on gun violence,” he said. “The difference is in how we get there.”

He cited a recent Texas church shooting where a “gun-carrying person instantly eliminated the threat” of a person who shot and killed church members.

“It is never about the gun,” Holt said. “It’s about the character of the person holding that gun.”

Gun-free zones, Holt added, “are an invitation to crazy people.”

In addition, a patchwork of local regulations would make it nearly impossible for law-abiding citizens to know if they are following the law as they move around Iowa, Holt said.

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Peterson said there is a growing “good buys and bad guys thing” developing where people see a “wild, wild west” solution where it takes someone armed with a weapon to stop an armed perpetrator.

“If you ask law enforcement and military, if there’s a shooting or a hot situation, the last thing they want is people to start pulling out guns and shooting,” he said.

Various anti-gun-violence groups have events planned throughout the week at the Capitol to highlight the issue.

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