Government

Iowa Senate passes gun rights constitutional amendment

'Strict scrutiny' sought to protect right to bear arms

A row of guns for sale at G & G Retailers of Davenport, Iowa (by Krista Johnson of IowaWatch)
A row of guns for sale at G & G Retailers of Davenport, Iowa (by Krista Johnson of IowaWatch)
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DES MOINES — State lawmakers want Iowa voters to decide whether they want to strengthen their gun rights.

Following the House’s lead earlier this week, the Iowa Senate voted Wednesday evening to take the first step toward giving Iowans an opportunity in the 2020 general election to amend the state Constitution to add protections for gun ownership.

Senators voted 34-15 to approve House Joint Resolution 2009, a one-page document that proposes a constitutional amendment providing that the right of people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed by government.

All 28 Republicans, one independent and five Democrats voted for the resolution, while 15 Democrats opposed it.

“The sovereign state of Iowa affirms and recognizes this right to be a fundamental individual right,” according to the resolution, which the Iowa House approved, 54-42, on Monday. “Any and all restrictions of this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny.”

Under Iowa law, resolutions to amend the state Constitution must be passed in the exact same form in both chambers of a General Assembly and be approved in the same form by the next consecutive General Assembly before it can be placed on the ballot.

If approved, the earliest that Iowa voters would likely vote on the language would be in November 2020.

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“What I’m trying to do is to protect Iowans’ Second Amendment rights,” said Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, who was floor manager of the resolution.

Forty-four other states have adopted similar protections for the right to bear arms to their constitutions.

Critics of the measure, however, argue Iowa should not join Alabama, Louisiana and Missouri in requiring courts to apply strict scrutiny in cases involving gun laws.

“This is a very high standard,” Zaun said. “What this bill is about — let’s put the cards on the table — is judicial activism.”

Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, sought to amend the resolution to the same language as found in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which does not include the “strict scrutiny” reference.

The resolution as proposed, he said, would make Iowa’s law “one of the most radical” in the nation.

”I’m giving you something we already have and you’re giving us something we don’t know,” he said.

In rejecting Bisignano’s amendment to the resolution on a 28-21 vote, proponents said they want to require that courts apply “strict scrutiny” when considering challenges to gun laws — a change that would prevent future legislatures from approving restrictions that would abridge Iowans’ rights.

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“We did not cut and paste” from the U.S. Constitution, said Sen. Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa. “It would be irresponsible to do so.”

Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, said majority Republicans in the Iowa Senate were “tone deaf” to the concerns of Iowans in the wake of school shootings and the “kitchen table” financial issues they face by taking up a constitutional amendment that is “a distraction,” when they should be passing a state budget and tackling other higher priorities.

“Tonight, it’s as if we’re preparing for the zombie apocalypse,” McCoy said. “I think this is reckless, and I think we haven’t thought this through.”

The debate turned contentious when Sen. Rick Bertrand, R-Sioux City, accused opponents of being “disingenuous” in pushing a political agenda in Wednesday debate, praising Zaun for bringing the issue before the Senate and telling him, “no pun intended, you take a lot of bullets when you take this on.”

Independent Sen. David Johnson of Ocheyedan agreed with criticisms that called the resolution “extreme” and “reckless,” but he said he was voting with the GOP majority because “I trust the Iowa voter. If this is what the ruling party wants, I’m going to give it to them.”

l Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

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