Iowa legislators send gun right amendment to voters

The House chamber at the State Capitol Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, January 15, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette
The House chamber at the State Capitol Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, January 15, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)

By James Q. Lynch, Gazette Des Moines Bureau

DES MOINES — In addition to electing a U.S. senator and governor in November 2022, Iowa voters will be asked to amend the state constitution to give gun rights more protection from legal challenges.

The Iowa House and Iowa Senate approved Senate Joint Resolution 7, a proposal to add language to the Iowa Constitution to 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.”

“It’s a very important resolution,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, who noted Iowa is one of only six states without any language in their constitutions about Second Amendment rights.

The proposed amendment “is going to give the voters of Iowa the opportunity in November 2022 to decide how important are your Second Amendment rights,” Zaun said. “The language on the ballot is pretty straightforward. This resolution is not changing any federal laws or state laws. This resolution is pretty simple to protect Iowans Second Amendment rights.”

But it’s not that simple, argued Sen. Kevin Kinney, D-Oxford, a retired sheriff’s deputy.

“I’m happy to place the Second Amendment in the Iowa Constitution,” he said. “But what we’re putting into the constitution is not the Second Amendment.”

That’s because the drafter added the “strict scrutiny” language.

Strict scrutiny “is the highest level of judicial scrutiny there is,” Zaun said.

Such a strict standard for limiting gun rights is needed because “it seems like there’s an endless amount of lawyers out there and an endless amount of advocacy groups that want to wipe this out of the Constitution,” said Sen. Dan Dawson, R-Council Bluffs.

Kinney doubted many senators “have had to look down the barrel of a gun as I have on a number of occasions.” Adding the strict scrutiny requirement “is going to make law enforcement more dangerous” because requirements for background checks and permits to carry may be struck down.

To fix that, Rep. Wes Breckenridge, D-Newton, offered an amendment during the House debate to substitute the words of the Second Amendment in the U.S. Bill of Rights.

Adopted in 1791, that amendment reads: “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

“It’s stood the test of time,” including court battles, said Breckenridge, who worked for 27 years in law enforcement.

but it didn’t stand the test of the GOP-controlled House.

Rep. Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, tried to remove those concerns by offering language to say that strict scrutiny would not be applied to current state or federal laws or regulations relating to background checks.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Steve Holt, R-Denison, said background checks are federal law not subject to the Iowa Constitution, and the amendment failed.

Legislators are pushing a constitutional change without knowing the impact on current laws, Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, said.

“And that’s by design,” he said. “This is about putting a loophole in Iowa law that is going to allow unelected judges to strike down laws passed by this Legislature.

In the end, the measure passed along party lines: 29-18 in the Senate and 58-41 in the House.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.