Government

Iowa gun rights constitutional amendment moving again

The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Take two on the Second Amendment had its day Monday in the Iowa Senate.

Senate Republicans advanced a proposal to amend the Iowa Constitution to specify Iowans’ right to own a gun and add heightened legal protection to that right.

The proposal restarts a process that originally began a year ago but was derailed by a clerical error in the Iowa Secretary of State’s office.

An amendment to the state constitution must be approved by legislators in two separately elected two-year General Assemblies and then go to a public vote.

In other words, if the gun rights amendment is approved during this session, it must also be approved by the next General Assembly, which will not gavel in until January of 2021, and after that approved by Iowa voters.

This would have been the second General Assembly to pass the proposed constitutional amendment, but after the previous General Assembly passed it in 2018, the Iowa Secretary of State’s office failed to publish a public notice about the proposal, which is a required under the constitutional amendment process. Since that step was not taken, the proposal was struck down and lawmakers were forced to start over the process this year.

“This simple amendment will ensure that these basic rights are protected for future generations and will not be affected by shifting and transitory political winds,” said Richard Rogers, of the Iowa Firearms Coalition.

Iowa is one six states without gun ownership rights specifically stated in its constitution.

Statehouse Republicans seek to change that, but their proposal has drawn opposition for including a call for “strict scrutiny” of any legal analysis.

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The legal phrase would make it difficult for future state lawmakers to pass any laws that would seek to regulate gun ownership and could subject existing regulations to legal challenges.

Iowa statehouse Democrats in 2018 proposed using identical language to the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment, which guarantees the right to bear arms, but Republicans rejected the proposal in favor of their stronger language.

“Why do we have to always take the extreme? That’s what I don’t understand,” said Tony Bisignano, a Senate judiciary committee member and Democrat from Des Moines. “An opportunity to do a bipartisan bill on a constitutional amendment, and we have to put it out of reach of reasonable people. I can’t support this. But I support the Second Amendment.”

Rogers said the “strict scrutiny” language is designed as protection against future attempts by lawmakers to place restrictions on the right to own a gun.

“This amendment was drafted out of necessity as we’ve seen a century or more of legalistic attempts to circumvent or obfuscate the clear, historically supportable meaning of the Second Amendment,” Rogers said.

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