Government

Iowa House approves gun rights constitutional amendment

(File photo)The Grand Stairway at the Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
(File photo)The Grand Stairway at the Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — The Iowa House took the first step Monday toward giving Iowans an opportunity to amend the state constitution to add protections for gun ownership.

The House vote 54-42 to approve House Joint Resolution 2009, Its sponsor, Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, said the proposal would place restrictions on government, “thereby allowing Iowans more freedom.”

Although the right to own guns has been upheld, Windschitl said 44 states have similar protections for the right to bear owns to their constitutions.

By adding the language, including a requirement that courts apply “strict scrutiny” when considering challenges to gun laws, he said it would prevent future legislatures from approving restrictions “because it makes us feel better.”

Rep. Andy McKean, R-Anamosa, agreed that gun ownership is a fundamental right and doesn’t oppose additional protections. However, he questioned whether Iowa should join Alabama, Louisiana and Missouri in requiring courts to apply strict scrutiny in cases involving gun laws.

That would elevate the Second Amendment above Iowans’ other constitutional rights, McKean said. It also would tie the hands of future legislatures in attempting to deal with changing times and circumstances, making it virtually impossible to pass any gun-related legislation, such as raising the age to buy a gun to 21.

He encouraged passage on amendment offered by Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, that she said would add the “pure, unadulterated” language of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, which does not include the strict scrutiny wording.

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That’s what Iowans have asked lawmakers to do — add the Second Amendment to the state constitution, not the strict scrutiny language, Wolfe said.

“We already have Second Amendment rights as Iowans, but I am fine with putting them into our constitution,” Wolfe said. In her opinion, the Iowa Supreme Court has a history of protecting individual rights to a greater extent than the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Second Amendment “is transparent, it is what it says it is,” she said. HJR 2009 is “overly broad (and) ambiguous and will open a Pandora’s box of litigation,” Wolfe said, and “result in the finding that a lot of our current firearms laws are unconstitutional.”

She predicted several current laws will be challenged in court within days if voters approve the constitutional amendment.

No one can say how those laws would be interpreted by future courts, “but we know how the Second Amendment has been interpreted by Supreme Court,” said Rep. Todd Prichard, D-Charles City, a former prosecutor and defense attorney.

Wolfe acknowledged that only two of the 44 states with gun rights in their constitutions uses the wording of the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Some use more restrictive language, she said.

However, Windschitl said the strict scrutiny language is necessary because “the very blunt answer is I don’t trust a future legislature to not come in and put an arbitrary restriction on our individual, fundamental rights, and I also don’t trust the courts to apply the U.S. constitutional language in the way that the U.S. Supreme Court already has.”

Wolfe’s amendment was a simple yes or no question, Rep. Brian Meyer, D-Des Moines.

“You are either going to vote for the Second Amendment or you are going to vote against the 2nd Amendment. Those are your choices,” he said.

The House voted 42-54 to reject Wolfe’s amendment.

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After about three hours of discussion, Wolfe assured the House that Democrats “support freedom, we support liberty and some of us may support this resolution.” A “no” vote on the resolution, she added, was not a vote against the 2nd Amendment.

Before the vote on his resolution, Windschitl reminded his colleagues that Iowans get the final say on constitutional amendments. An amendment to the Iowa Constitution must be approved in two consecutive sessions of the Legislature before being submitted to voters, perhaps as early as 2020.

“If all of my other arguments have fallen on deaf ears, if you just want to think I’m some crazy, gun-loving kook, fine,” Windschitl said. “But think about this, voting ‘no’ on this here tonight is denying Iowans an opportunity have their voices heard.”

No Democrats voted for the resolution. Two Republicans — McKean and Rep. Dave Heaton of Mount Pleasant — vote against it.

In other action:

SF 2366 to increase the membership on the state veterans Commission from nine to 11 by adding representatives nominated by the Paralyzed Veterans of America and Iowa Association of County Commissioners and veteran service officers was approved 95-0.

It also would allow funds that once the minimum balance of $5 million is reached, interest and earnings and the first $500,000 instead of $300,000 transferred from the Iowa Lottery Fund can be spent on authorized purposes.

Under SF 2366, earlier approved by the Senate, money in the trust fund could be used for rental housing assistance for homeless veterans for the of rental application fees needed to secure rental housing, and for a one-time monetary assistance to prevent homelessness in an amount not to exceed $1,000 per recipient.

Approved SF 2200, that was written to protect veterans from those attempted to scam or defraud them, 94-0.

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Candidates for state boards subject to Senate confirmation and people seeking executive-branch employment would be required to disclose to Iowa officials if they were registered as an agent for a foreign government under SF 2323, which was approved by the House 95-0.

Under the bill, the governor’s appointees who are subject to Senate confirmation would be required to disclose if they have filed as a foreign agent, any member of a board, committee, commission, or council who was subject to Senate confirmation also would be required to disclose if they have registered as a foreign agent and outside employment or activities that require registration as a foreign agent is prohibited for state employees and officials.

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

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