DES MOINES, Iowa – The Iowa Legislature on Thursday passed a proposed constitutional amendment that would add gun rights to Iowa’s Constitution. The proposed amendment passed in both chambers for a second time so that Iowa voters will vote on its ratification in 2022.
The Iowa Senate passed SJR 7 first late Thursday morning by a 29 to 18 party-line vote. The Iowa House then passed SJR 7 on early Thursday evening by a 58 to 41 party-line vote. Each chamber saw hours-long debate before voting on the resolution.
Iowa is one of only six states that do not have gun rights enshrined in its state constitution but would be just the fourth state, if the amendment is ratified, to include a strict scrutiny requirement in its state constitution.
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.”
Republicans said such language is needed and reflects the intent of the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Democrats called the strict scrutiny language extreme, saying it goes beyond the 2nd Amendment and would put all gun safety laws at risk.
Democrats’ attempts to amend the resolution failed. Amending the language of the resolution would require yet another vote in the 90th General Assembly.
State Senator Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, introduced an amendment that was just the Second Amendment’s text.
“This could be a noncontroversial bill in a bipartisan fashion, to do something that has been overlooked for over a century. But no, the majority party chooses division. They choose extremism. This is an extreme proposal,” he said.
State Senator Kevin Kinney, D-Oxford, a retired sheriff’s deputy, said he supported Second Amendment text but did not support the strict scrutiny language.
“When you are placing strict scrutiny into the Constitution, you’re going to be diminishing our laws that are on the book. To me, this is going to make law enforcement more dangerous. It’s going to allow background checks not to be done. People freely carrying weapons, let alone the number of suicides that I have had to investigate, which is in the hundreds that someone has used a weapon to kill themselves. I know that there has (sic) been many times just because of the waiting period, those individuals have been able to get help,” he said.
State Senator Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, agreed with amending the language. He said he supports the Second Amendment, owns a gun and has had a concealed carry permit.
“We want a Second Amendment that works. We have one. We have one that has been tested and reviewed, and interpreted repeatedly. It’s real. It exists. It’s part of the supreme law of our land. It is part of our Constitution. And yet, here we are today, considering language that is not the Second Amendment. That is very different. It’s because it’s different. That you’re introducing it, you intend for it to be different. You intend for it to be a different set of laws here in Iowa. You intend for it to be a different constitutional standard. That’s the idea here,” he argued.
State Senator Dan Dawson, R-Council Bluffs, responded.
“What we’re talking about here is trying to affirm a civil right, and a constitutional right. We’re not making a political point. If we were in different times, Second Amendment language might be appropriate. But we’re not in another time. We have an army of lawyers out there, and an army of advocacy groups that have launched an assault against the Constitution,” he said. “That’s exactly why we’re dealing with strict scrutiny here today.”
State Senator Zach Whiting, R-Spirit Lake, pointed out that the Second Amendment’s jurisprudence until 2008 was unsettled.
“It took until Heller in 2008 for the court to recognize it as a fundamentally protected individual right, and took it until 2010, in the McDonald case, to incorporate this right against the states. And so, yeah, we probably could say, yes, the Second Amendment, as applied to the States, that right to keep and bear arms is protected,” he said.
“Because the jurisprudence has been unsettled for so long, if the court changes, if the federal jurisprudence changes on the Second Amendment, Iowans are left out to dry,” Whiting added.
State Senator Jim Carlin, R-Sioux City, said it lawmakers’ responsibility to protect freedom.
“This bill is part of keeping a commitment to freedom, our children’s freedom. Strict scrutiny, when you have runaway legislators, is indispensable to its preservation. Strict scrutiny means preservation of Second Amendment rights,” he said.
State Senator Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said the proposed constitutional amendment managed by State Senator Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, would open the door to deregulated militias.
“(The) proposal here would eliminate that language about a well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state. By doing so, he would open the door and indeed put out the welcome mat for unregulated militias. We’ve seen too many of those in recent months,” he said.
“We need to retain the language about a well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, not adopt this radical alteration of that,” Quirmbach added.
He criticized State Senator Julian Garrett, R-Indianola, who said the text about well-regulated militias was not part of the subject matter as it was the preamble in the Second Amendment.
“I might remind everyone that the constitution itself has a preamble. And I think it’s a pretty important part of the constitution,” Quirmbach stated.
State Senator Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, reminded the Senate that the constitutional amendment would not nullify federal laws if ratified.
“Some of the horror stories that we’ve we’ve heard that will not come true, haven’t come true in any other state with a firearms protection, are simple scare tactics. I don’t think anybody believes it would happen,” he said. “I would point out last time I stood on this; I referred to some of the hyperbole and some of the scare tactics pointing out that you cannot buy a bazooka if this passes. I would like to remain consistent and say I would still like to own a bazooka someday, but that will never happen because it is federally regulated, which is what the point two years ago when we talked about this.”
However, Schultz pointed out that the state had recently banned things allowed by federal law like suppressors.
“Once we made them legal, I still had to comply with each and every one I consider onerous and unnecessary federal regulation. But I can’t make that federal regulation change just because Iowa says we’re going to change. It still remains,” he added.
Schultz argued the state of Iowa is in a precarious position.
“We have an immense danger in Iowa’s Constitution currently, that should the federal government withdraw the doctrine of incorporation, meaning that the Federal Bill of Rights only binds the federal government and not the states, we will suddenly be a state without firearms protections for the citizen. And I do consider that catastrophic and disastrous,” he said.
State Senator Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, pointed out that the constitutional amendment will not end background checks in his closing comments.
“Background checks are federal law. They cannot be repealed by state,” he said. “I wonder how many of you have actually been in the process to purchase a firearm? I have. I noticed a lot of us, on both sides of the aisle, that have. Never once at a gun show or at a dealer? Do they ever just sell your firearm without your license to purchase or your license to carry? Never once does that firearm dealer not check the background,” he said.
Zaun addressed strict scrutiny as well.
“This is not extreme. What this is, this is a high standard to protect the potential of judicial activism,” he said.
Listen to the Iowa Senate debate:
The debate in the Iowa House lasted longer, with lawmakers making similar points.
House Democrats made the argument that the proposed constitutional amendment did not define the word “arms.” Inferring a change in the Iowa Constitution would allow any and all weapons.
The Second Amendment in the U.S. Constitution also does not define “arms.”
“This amendment deliberately makes it impossible for legislators to regulate firearms in any meaningful way, at any point in the future,” State Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, said.
State Rep. Bruce Hunter, D-Des Moines, insinuated that gun rights were not under attack.
“Has anybody gone to your house knocked on the door and told you to give away your guns,” he said.
Hunter also pointed out that in states with strict scrutiny, gun control laws are struck down 76 percent of the time.
“The proposed amendment is not the Second Amendment. It’s a perversion of that constitutional right. It’s an extreme bill that cripples law enforcement and endangers society,” State Rep. Christina Bohannan, D-Iowa City, said.
“The framers of our constitution believed in the Second Amendment, but they never would have signed on to this bill. They believed in the freedom to defend oneself. But they also believed in law and order. They were statesmen. They created a brilliant constitution with checks and balances, not extremist ideology. This proposed bill is a reckless amendment that threatens the balance between gun rights and gun safety that Iowa has worked for decades to calibrate,” she added.
State Rep. Marti Anderson, D-Des Moines, said Iowa already has lax gun laws.
“I fear that people will continue to carry firearms in the Capitol state and county courthouses and city halls. Those are places where people go who are upset and angry, conflicted, or fighting someone for something. These are not safe places for firearms. Supporters of this bill say we are working to secure the freedoms and gun rights, freedoms, and gun rights. But I already has strong gun laws. I believe that the Brady Association gives Iowa seven points out of 100 for our gun laws that should make people who are concerned about gun laws happy. Under Iowa law, a person can use a gun to protect themselves, their family, their home, their business, or anyone they see in imminent danger. So Second Amendment rights are well protected in Iowa. This amendment will result in significant danger to gun violence prevention and the public. It should not become law,” she said.
State Rep. Rick Olson, D-Des Moines, said the proposed amendment would upset checks and balances in Iowa’s Constitution.
“What this is is a way to shackle the Supreme Court, the unelected judges, and to allow more power to be in this legislature, particularly in the party that’s in the majority because the party that’s in the majority can pass gun laws that won’t have the constitutional check and balance that we have if this resolution is not adopted,” he said.
State Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, who floor managed the bill, rebutted some of the criticism from House Democrats.
“Background checks will remain, federal background checks will remain. And we do have requirements at gun shows to show permits to purchase,” he said.
Holt reminded House Democrats that strict scrutiny requires a compelling government interest and if the government can demonstrate that the law will remain.
He noted that Democrat attitudes about guns have changed in just a few years. He looked back when Iowa’s law allowed county sheriffs broad discretion to deny carry permits under the state’s “may issue” law, and it was changed to “shall issue” to ensure Iowans who were legally allowed to have a carry permit would get one.
“Shall issue was supported by Democrats in 2010. Governor Culver signed it. The Democrats were in charge when shall issue was done,” Holt said.
He later pointed out that Louisiana, which requires strict scrutiny, saw their Supreme Court uphold a ban on felons owning guns.
Holt also said that the language in the amendment does reflect the Second Amendment.
“I would advance that it is the second amendment in modern-day language born from the wisdom of experience for decades, he said. “Progressives and those folks who and the incidence of firearms placed the blame on an inanimate object stead of the person pulling the trigger have assaulted this fundamental right.”
Holt explained why the amendment is needed.
“It is apparent in 2021 that freedom and liberty are fragile and are under assault. We need it because the landmark Second Amendment cases, Heller and McDonald, were decided by only a one-vote majority. We need it because for U.S. Supreme Court justices disagreed in those cases that the Second Amendment protects a fundamental individual right to keep and bear arms. And in their dissent, they created a roadmap for the future destruction of the 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 argued.