DES MOINES, Iowa – On Thursday, the Iowa House Public Safety Committee passed HSB 9, the ‘Keep and Bear Arms Amendment’ out of committee by a 13 to 6 party-line vote.
(Watch the entire committee debate above.)
If passed in both chambers of the Iowa Legislature this session and ratified by Iowa voters, the constitutional amendment enshrines Second Amendment language in Iowa’s Constitution. It also requires that courts apply strict scrutiny before an Iowan’s gun rights can be infringed.
The amendment 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 amendment passed out of subcommittee on Tuesday, and the early committee vote in only the second week of the legislative session demonstrates Iowa House Republican leadership’s commitment to ensuring this constitutional amendment goes before voters in 2022.
Two Democratic legislators during committee spoke in opposition to the amendment.
“Republicans are back at it again this year with a bill to eliminate background checks, remove the requirement for a permit to carry a concealed handgun, and allow them in our safest spaces, schools, hospitals, childcare centers, or courthouses,” State Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, stated.
“The constitutional amendment will likely take down every reasonable gun law on the books because it raises the legal standard beyond the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” she said. “If Republicans wanted to protect our Second Amendment rights, the language of the Second Amendment provided a great example of how to do just that. Unfortunately, Republicans have insisted on using strict scrutiny as the standard for reviewing laws.”
Wessel-Kroeschell said the nation’s divisiveness demonstrated by the breach at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 is reason enough to delay the amendment.
“We need to step back. This is not the time to rush a constitutional amendment to eliminate Iowa’s common-sense gun laws,” she stated.
If the Iowa Legislature does not pass the constitutional amendment during the 89th General Assembly, it would be back to square one since constitutional amendments have to be passed in concurrent general assemblies.
“The reckless disregard for the gun violence that plagues so many people’s lives is morally bankrupt and doesn’t have anything to do with protecting freedom,” Wessel-Kroeschell said. “The fact that military-style assault weapons and high capacity magazines are routinely available to people is alarming and surprising to many Americans.”
She said she wasn’t sure how far gun advocates would go in legalizing certain weapons, referencing a comment made by State Senator Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, during the Senate floor debate in 2019 over the same amendment. To point out the limits of the proposed amendment, Schultz said he would like to have a bazooka, but couldn’t under federal law regardless of the constitutional amendment proposal. Schultz told The Iowa Torch that his comment was “such a hit” that a couple of members of the Senate Republican caucus passed out Bazooka gum as a joke.
Wessel-Kroeschell in her comments later said the ultimate goal is to have a constitutional carry law in Iowa that allows open or concealed carry without a permit.
“Why don’t you be honest about it, and bring this constitutional carry bill to the House floor?” she asked. “You are punting this to the courts to decide.”
In reality, the constitutional amendment would ensure that a constitutional carry bill would have a better chance of surviving a court challenge if Republicans truly desired such a bill and it passed. Without the constitutional amendment, that is anything but certain.
State Rep. Marti Anderson, D-Des Moines, stated she understood adding Second Amendment language in Iowa’s Constitution but disagreed with the addition of “strict scrutiny.”
“Of course, we want people to be able to protect themselves, you know, but I don’t understand Why we would be using the language of strict scrutiny, which is generally reserved for issues regarding protected classes, civil rights, for races and genders and religion,” she said.
“I believe people have a right to their guns except for people who don’t have a right to their guns,” Anderson added.
She noted the list of those who are not allowed firearms in the state is narrowly defined in Iowa law.
State Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, who managed the bill in committee, addressed the complaints about the strict scrutiny language in the constitutional amendment.
“This language is intended to prevent the passage of future laws if they infringe on fundamental rights such as the Second Amendment. It should not affect laws that do not prevent the exercise of or aspects of the right to keep and bear arms. Again, compelling government interest, narrowly tailored, that is the requirement of strict scrutiny. The Second Amendment is not a second-class right,” he said.
“The Second Amendment is a fundamental right just like the right to free speech, just like the right of freedom to assemble and freedom of religion,” Holt explained.
“Fundamental rights, deserve strict scrutiny,” he asserted.
Holt also accused Wessel-Kroeschell of fear-mongering since bazookas, tanks, and other types of military weapons are covered under federal law and had nothing to do with the constitutional amendment the committee was discussing.
In closing, Holt pointed out the Second Amendment is necessary for our other unalienable rights.
“Life and liberty are unalienable rights for all American citizens, the right to someone’s own life in the pursuit of their own happiness, their own destiny, cannot be separated from the right to defend that life. Hence, the fundamental right to keep and bear arms in our Second Amendment. This fundamental right to control our own lives and destiny, guaranteed in our U.S. Constitution, cannot exist without the right to defend our lives,” he asserted.
Holt also noted that gun rights have sat on a razor’s edge before the Supreme Court with landmark rulings in Heller and McDonald in favor of gun rights decided by 5 to 4 majorities.
“Four U.S. Supreme Court justices disagreed in those cases, that the Second Amendment protects a fundamental individual right to keep in bear arms and in their dissent. They created a roadmap for the future disruption of our Second Amendment. That is why it is critical to have this firewall in the state constitution, and why the strict scrutiny language is so important in preventing backdoor assaults and undue burdens on this fundamental right,” he said before highlighting several attempts to curtail the gun rights of Iowans.