DES MOINES — For the third time, the Legislature has approved a resolution that would give voters the opportunity to adopt an amendment to the Iowa Constitution providing Iowans with the right to keep and bear arms.
Senate Joint Resolution 18 was approved Wednesday 33-16 in the Senate and 53-46 in the House, putting it on course to eventually be submitted to voters.
Before then, the resolution must be approved by the next General Assembly, which convenes in 2021, and then would be submitted to voters as early as 2022.
Legislators took up the issue again because the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office failed to meet a notification requirement, forcing the amendment process to start over.
If adopted by voters, the state constitution would be amended by adding: “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.”
Like the outcome, there was little new in the debate.
In the House, Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, framed it as a simple question: “Do you like freedom?”
The amendment would protect that freedom against potential future laws or executive orders from the federal government, said Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale. U.S. Constitution Second Amendment rights “have been eroded through many years,” he added.
However, Democrats didn’t think it was that simple. They argued the amendment would not only make passage of future gun regulations difficult, but also could make current regulations vulnerable.
“This creates a lot of unknown possibilities,” said Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines.
Democrats warned of the potential for legal challenges to current state regulations like prohibiting felons and domestic abusers from owning guns. They said, under the amendment, someone could challenge any of those regulations already on the books, and the courts may strike them down because of the strict scrutiny requirement.
Windschitl rejected the concerns, pointing out such challenges could be made today.
In both chambers, attempts to replace the wording of the state amendment with the actual language of the Second Amendment failed — on a party-line vote in the Senate, but in the House with Rep. Andy McKean, R-Anamosa, joining Democrats.
“I, too, revere the Second Amendment,” McKean said. Although he supported joining 44 states that have Second Amendment language in their constitutions, he strongly opposed the inclusion of the “strict scrutiny” language.
“I have strong reservations about forcing judges to apply strict scrutiny to any and all gun laws,” he said.
Only three states have that language. In recent years, eight states — six red states and two blue states, McKean said — have rejected it.
He also warned voters might reject the amendment because of the strict scrutiny standard.
“Iowans won’t stand for that,” said Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City. And if voters reject the amendment because of the strict scrutiny clause, she asserted, Windschitl will have endangered Iowans’ gun rights.
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