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Constitutional protections for right to bear arms advances

Rod Boshart, The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa –

Gun-rights advocates fired the first volley Thursday in a legislative effort to amend the state’s constitution to guarantee an individual’s right to possess and bear arms in Iowa.

House Joint Resolution 2005 would add language to the Iowa Constitution establishing a fundamental right to “acquire, keep, possess, transport, carry, transfer and use arms to defend life and liberty and for all other legitimate purposes’’ that cannot be infringed upon or denied. The resolution also provides that mandatory licensing, registration or special taxation as a condition of the exercise of that right would be prohibited and any other restriction would be “subject to strict scrutiny.”

“The intent of this is not to cause controversy,” said Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley. “The intent of this is to protect Iowans’ Second Amendment rights and it is meant to do that with the strongest language possible.” At the same time, he said the change could create a new constitutional test for existing state and local statutes pertaining to the right to bear arms if they were challenged after the proposed amendment was ratified by Iowa voters.

While the right to bear arms is protected by the U.S. Constitution, Windschitl said Iowa is one of six states that currently does not have a similar constitutional protection at the state level. He said it could take up to three years to bring the issue before Iowa voters because Iowa law requires a proposed constitutional amendment to pass two consecutive Iowa general assemblies in exactly the same form before that language is placed on the general-election ballot for consideration. He said the proposed language would be the strongest state-level protection in the nation.

“Nothing is going to happen overnight,” he said. “Even if this passes, this isn’t like overnight all of a sudden you’re not going to see Joe Blow walking around the street carrying some type of huge weapon. That’s not the intent. The intent behind this is to make sure that Iowans’ Second Amendment rights are once and for all finally protected in our state constitution.”

Windschitl – one of 36 House GOP sponsors of the resolution — and other proponents argued during a House subcommittee meeting that there have been recent court decisions decided by a single vote that have threatened to take away rights to keep a handgun in a person’s home and other challenges to gun rights that make it imperative to establish constitutional language to require strict scrutiny to guard against potential “judicial abuses” in the future.

Rep. Deborah Berry, D-Waterloo, a subcommittee member, said she supports the Second Amendment but wanted to study the proposed resolution further to make certain there would not be unintended consequences associated with a constitutional change. Rep. Mark Brandenburg, R-Council Bluffs, said he supported the resolution, adding “I think it’s time that we make Iowa the 45th state” with Second Amendment language in its constitution.

No one attending Thursday’s subcommittee meeting spoke directly against the resolution, which was approved and forwarded to the House Public Safety Committee

Susan Cameron, a lobbyist for the Iowa State Sheriffs and Deputies Association, said her group had concerns that the resolution’s wording was “pretty broad” and planned to monitor its progress in the legislative process.

Mark Smith of the State Public Defender’s Office noted that Iowa’s founders were aware of the Second Amendment in the U.S. Constitution and decided not to include a similar provision in Iowa’s constitution.

“Does that mean anything that they didn’t put it in there?” he asked. “Does that mean that they perceived it differently?”

However, Christopher Rager of the National Rifle Association of America said Iowa’s founders likely did not anticipate gun-control measures and judicial interpretations that threaten to “eviscerate” Second Amendment protections in urging support for the HJR 2005 resolution.

“The pioneers probably didn’t foresee the type of judicial abuses that have been out there that basically obliterated the right that they thought was guaranteed by the constitution,” he said.

Windschitl said recent court decisions have created “a great unease out there” among Iowans who support Second Amendment protections. He said proponents have responded by proposing “the strongest language possible” to preserve those rights.

House Democratic Leader Kevin McCarthy of Des Moines said Thursday’s subcommittee action was part of a some “disturbing signs” he’s noticed that majority House Republicans plan to tackle some “divisive” issues that will distract legislators from priorities such as encouraging more job creation and addressing “bread-and-butter” issues that affect average Iowans in their daily lives.

“I don’t think we should be spending a lot of time on these divisive issues,” he said. “I think it’s a waste of time.”

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said he was uncertain what future HJR 2005 would face in the Senate, noting that some senators likely would support the change and some probably wouldn’t. “I think that’s a judgment for the institution to make,” he said.

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