DES MOINES, Iowa – SJR 1, a constitutional amendment that will enshrine Iowans’ right to keep and bear arms in the Iowa Constitution, passed out of an Iowa Senate subcommittee on Thursday 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.
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.”
The subcommittee included State Senators Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, and Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig. Zaun and Schultz supported the bill, Bisignano did not.
The Iowa House already moved their companion bill out of committee, passing by a 13 to 6 vote in the Iowa House Public Safety Committee on Thursday afternoon.
Most of the public feedback during the Thursday morning subcommittee opposed the bill, and most of the criticism was directed to the strict scrutiny requirement.
Leslie Carpenter, who advocates for Iowans who are mentally ill, stated that 79 percent of Iowa’s gun deaths are suicides.
“This constitutional amendment would limit ability for sensible gun legislation, which most Iowans and most gun owners support to prevent unnecessary gun deaths,” she said.
Erin Fletcher, who identified herself as a veteran, gun owner, and mom who recently moved from Missouri, opposed the amendment. She said Missouri added similar language to their constitution.
“They saw an increase in gun violence, and also it cost the state a tremendous amount of money, figuring out in the courts, whether that was going to preempt the state from prohibiting felons from having weapons and things like that,” she said.
Tracy Kennedy, another mother who also recently moved from Missouri, made similar remarks.
Missouri released a report in 2019 showing a 56.4 percent increase in gun-related deaths in the state from 2008 to 2018. It did not discuss the cause; the Missouri Foundation for Health commissioned a study to ascertain what led to the increase. Missouri voters approved Amendment 5 in 2014 by 61 percent of the vote, and the state’s supreme court upheld the amendment in 2015.
Missouri’s amendment reads, “The rights guaranteed by this section shall be unalienable. Any restriction on these rights shall be subject to strict scrutiny and the state of Missouri shall be obligated to uphold these rights and shall under no circumstances decline to protect against their infringement. Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent the general assembly from enacting general laws which limit the rights of convicted violent felons or those adjudicated by a court to be a danger to self or others as result of a mental disorder or mental infirmity.”
Charlotte Eby representing Giffords agreed that their research shows Iowa is one of six states that doesn’t have language mirroring the Second Amendment in its state constitution. But she added that only three states require strict scrutiny – Alabama, Louisiana, and Missouri – calling the language “extreme.”
Connie Ryan of Interfaith Alliance of Iowa agreed.
“Adding gun rights with strict scrutiny to the Iowa Constitution would place all of Iowa’s common-sense gun safety laws, and future legislation in danger of being struck down by the court, placing Iowans in harm’s way,” she said.
Ryan said that laws prohibiting felons from owning or carrying a gun, background checks, the prohibition to carry on school grounds, the requirement to obtain a permit to carry, and handgun training requirements for initial permits could all be impacted by the amendment.
Bisignano, who sided with gun control advocates, said that the amendment would not be controversial without the strict scrutiny language.
“I’m just concerned that there’s so much enthusiasm for this extremism on the Second Amendment,” he said.
“I just think people are comfortable with our Second Amendment rights. No, oh, they’ve been expanded tremendously in the past several years. And to take this extreme to get into one or two states is extremism. I don’t ever have a desire; I got to honestly say, I have no desire to ever be on a list with Alabama and Louisiana,” Bisignano stated.
Richard Rogers with the Iowa Firearms Coalition disagreed.
“There’s nothing radical about supporting the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights. The courts, the Supreme Court included, recognize that the right to keep bear arms is a fundamental individual right. That pre-exists the constitution, is not granted by the constitution, the constitution attempts to protect those rights for the individuals,” he said.
Rogers addressed strict scrutiny.
“This amendment was drafted in this manner out of necessity, as we’ve seen a century or more of legalistic attempts to circumvent or obfuscate the clear historically supportable meaning of the Second Amendment,” he noted.
Rogers added that the amendment does not call into question laws that are not considered an infringement.
Schultz, who said he would sign approving the bill, said the complaints brought up by gun control advocates gets at the heart of why the amendment is necessary.
“The point of this is to restrict future gun control bills. That’s why you put it in the constitution. Constitutions bind governments; they bind and protect the rights of citizens. That’s why you put it here. My intent here is that the firearms rights are protected in Iowa’s constitution, and those who wish to have the Federal Constitution, Second Amendment language are doing so because they have seen the courts watered down an amendment that includes the words shall not be infringed. I intend that Iowa’s constitution effectively does not allow infringement. I believe freedom is the answer,” he said.
“I believe that rights are rights. I believe they’re equal and therefore should be protected to the same standard. I would want First Amendment rights, freedom of speech, specifically, to be to be defended to a level of strict scrutiny,” Schultz added.
Zaun, who spoke in support of the constitutional amendment, pointed out that the constitutional amendment has already passed in two general assemblies but had to be considered this year due to a mistake made by the Iowa Secretary of State’s office.
Ultimately, he said, the citizens of Iowa will decide on this constitutional amendment.
Listen to the full subcommittee hearing below: