DES MOINES, Iowa – HSB 9, a constitutional amendment that will enshrine Iowans’ right to keep and bear arms in the Iowa Constitution, passed out of an Iowa House subcommittee on Tuesday morning. The amendment passed last year during the 88th General Assembly. It will need to pass both the Iowa House and Iowa Senate before voters decide whether to ratify the amendment or not.
Iowa is one of six states that do not have gun rights protected in the state constitution, something Richard Rogers with Iowa Firearms Coalition noted when he spoke before the subcommittee.
He explained why the amendment is needed.
“Because those who for nearly a century so successfully weaponize the courts to remove constitutional restrictions on government, vastly expanding its powers while throttling individual liberty, now refuse to accept court decisions making clear that the constitution limits government and not the people,” Rogers said.
“They’ve made clear their wish to overturn the critical pro-Second Amendment Supreme Court decisions of Heller and McDonald. At this very moment, serious attempts are being made to shamelessly pack the court, turning it into a political tool and super-legislature,” he added. “Should these efforts succeed, the need for state-level protections and the right to bear arms will be critical.”
The amendment’s language reads, “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.”
Requiring strict scrutiny in the text of the Iowa Constitution was a sticking point for those who opposed the amendment.
Charlotte Eby representing Giffords, said the strict scrutiny language would make it earlier to challenge Iowa’s gun safety laws.
“Because this requires strict scrutiny as a legal standard to be applied to any firearm laws, it’s much more likely the court could strike down important state laws that protect public safety such as background checks, concealed carry and permit to purchase laws,” she said.
Tom Chapman with the Iowa Catholic Conference opposed the legislation for the same reason.
“We think this strict scrutiny language might put current regulation in jeopardy, such as background check and permit requirements. I also think that these decisions are best left to the legislature to decide,” he said.
“The right to bear arms, as found in our Constitution, will always be there. We know people have the right to defend themselves, sometimes using deadly force if necessary, but this legislation goes beyond that issue,” he added.
State Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, chaired the subcommittee, and it included State Reps. Jarad Klein, R-Keota, and Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames.
Wessel-Kroeschell pointed to the Capitol riots as a reason why the amendment should be defeated.
“We saw our U.S. Capitol attacked by insurrectionists, just less than two weeks ago, and tomorrow we will be celebrating the inauguration of our next president. But Washington DC has been essentially shut down due to the threat of violence,” she said.
“Iowans, no doubt, want their guns, and they want to be able to protect themselves. But Iowans deserve and want to be safe from gun violence in their homes and in their communities, and their neighborhoods,” Wessel-Kroeschell argued.
She pointed to the recent shooting on Capitol grounds. During a rally for President Donald Trump on December 6, 2020, Michael McKinney fired into the vehicle with four Black girls, wounding one of the teenage girls in the leg. He has been charged with attempted murder, intimidation with a dangerous weapon, willful injury, assault while participating in a felony, reckless use of a firearm, and going armed with intent. McKinney told investigators said he fired in self-defense.
“Just here in Des Moines, we saw at a Trump rally an individual shoot at four teenagers because they were saying things he didn’t like. I’m going to say teenagers often say things I don’t like. I raised two, that can be really annoying. To turn to gun violence is just wrong. And this amendment is going to help people turn to gun violence over and over again,” Wessel-Kroeschell stated.
Holt closed the subcommittee meeting explaining why the strict scrutiny language was necessary.
“The Supreme Court reminded us in the McDonald case: the Second Amendment is not a second class right. It’s not subject to an entirely different body of rules than the other Bill of Rights guarantees. Fundamental rights deserve strict scrutiny,” he said.
“Why would anyone want Iowans’ rights, one right or another, less rigorously protected than say the right to freedom of speech, or the right to peaceably assemble or the right to freedom of religion?” Holt asked.
He said it is apparent that the language is needed in Iowa’s Constitution.
“We need it because it is profoundly apparent in 2021 that freedom and liberty are fragile and under greater assault than at any time in our history. We need it because the landmark Second Amendment cases Heller and McDonald were decided by only a one-vote majority. We need it because four U.S. Supreme Court justices disagreed in those cases that the Second Amendment protects a fundamental individual right to keep in bear arms in their dissent. They created a roadmap for the future destruction of Second Amendment rights. This is why it was critical to have this firewall in the state constitution and why the strict scrutiny language is so important in preventing backdoor assault and undue burdens on this fundamental right,” Holt explained.
Holt and Klein supported the resolution, Wessel-Kroeschell opposed, it will proceed to the full Iowa House Public Safety Committee.