Government

Gun violence prevention campaign targets Iowa

(File photo)The Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines, photographed on Tuesday, June 10, 2014. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
(File photo)The Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines, photographed on Tuesday, June 10, 2014. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — A gun violence prevention group is launching a digital campaign encouraging Iowans to tell legislators to oppose a constitutional amendment it believes would weaken state gun safety laws.

Giffords, the gun violence prevention group founded by former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Capt. Mark Kelly, launched a digital campaign urging Iowans to stand against the proposal by pointing out to their legislators how this puts Iowa’s gun laws at risk.

According to gun rights supporters in the Iowa Legislature, the proposed amendment simply would add the right to bear arms in the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment to the Iowa Constitution. It would say: “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The sovereign state of Iowa affirms and recognizes this right to be a fundamental individual right. Any and all restrictions of this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny.”

In its 30-second online ad, https://youtu.be/duExsXouC8Y Giffords doesn’t address that language. Instead, Nico Bocour, Giffords’ state legislative director, said the intention is to inform and educate voters that legislators are trying to pass “a really dangerous amendment that would undermine Iowa gun laws, make it incredibly difficult and prohibitive to pass new gun laws in the future and we think really goes against what the Iowa public wants.”

Giffords warns that even background checks intended to keep guns out of the hands of felons and domestic abusers could be challenged if the amendment is adopted.

Polling has shown Iowans support background checks, added Charlotte Eby, a lobbyist who represents Giffords at the Iowa Statehouse.

“This measure could put those in peril and make it easier for a court challenge of smart gun laws” because of the “strict scrutiny” language, she said.

Giffords calls that a “dangerous and radical policy that would constrain the discretion of Iowa’s legislature to regulate guns and force state judges to apply a legal standard under which laws evaluated are more frequently struck down.”

Iowa lawmakers have approved the amendment twice, as required by law, and the next step was for it to be put on the ballot for voters to approve or reject. But because of an error, it was not published before the November election. Lawmakers will have to restart the process of amending the constitution. That means it won’t be on the ballot before 2022.

“The amendment has been a priority for over a decade now,” according to Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, who led the effort to get the amendment on the ballot. “I believe this is a priority for Iowans. We will continue to do what is right, by Iowans, in giving them the opportunity to have this on the ballot and have their voices heard.”

Bocour acknowledged that the fact the language has been approved may make it more difficult to stop lawmakers from putting it on the ballot, but it also gives advocates for gun safety legislation another opportunity.

Giffords thinks the tide of public opinion is turning. Sixty-seven gun laws were adopted by 26 states and Washington, D.C., last year. She also pointed to NBC exit polling last year that found among Democrats, gun policies ranked as the second most important issue, behind health care and ahead of the economy. Guns were the fourth issue on voters’ minds regardless of party.

“So the movement and momentum on this issue has been going toward gun safety,” Bocour said. “We saw the gun lobby’s efforts to pass these extreme and dangerous laws fail in states across the country.”

The November election showed the public is prioritizing gun safety legislation as one of their top voting issues, she said. Several candidates who back “smart” gun legislation were elected by voters “turning out to make their voices heard on this issue.”

Unfortunately, she added, “it does seem that Iowa lawmakers have been listening more to the gun lobby than people who elected them.”

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“We’re hoping that with this additional information … lawmakers will hear those calls and understand that tide really has turned,” she said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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