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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 21, 2018

Senate passes bill seeking constitutional vote

‘Strict scrutiny’ sought to protect right to bear arms
By Rod Boshart, Gazette Des Moines Bureau | Mar 22, 2018

DES MOINES — State lawmakers want Iowa voters to decide whether they want to strengthen their gun rights.

Following the House’s lead earlier this week, the Iowa Senate voted Wednesday to take the first step toward giving Iowans an opportunity in the 2020 general election to amend the state constitution to add protections for gun ownership.

Senators voted 34-15 to approve House Joint Resolution 2009, a one-page document that proposes a constitutional amendment providing that the right of people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed by government. All 28 Republicans, one independent and five Democrats voted for the resolution, while 15 minority Democrats opposed it.

“The sovereign state of Iowa affirms and recognizes this right to be a fundamental individual right,” according to the resolution, which the Iowa House approved 54-42 on Monday. “Any and all restrictions of this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny.”

Under Iowa law, resolutions to amend the state constitution must be passed in the exact same form in both chambers of a General Assembly and then again be approved in the same form by the next consecutive General Assembly to be placed on the ballot. If approved, the earliest that Iowa voters would be asked to approve the language in a statewide vote would likely in the November 2020 election.

“What I’m trying to do is to protect Iowans’ Second Amendment rights,” said Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, who was floor manager of the resolution to join 44 states with similar laws.

However, critics said Iowa should not join Alabama, Louisiana and Missouri in requiring courts to apply strict scrutiny in cases involving gun laws.


“This is a very high standard,” Zaun said. “What this bill is about – let’s put the cards on the table – is judicial activism.”


Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, said the proposal would make Iowa’s language “one of the most radical” in seeking to replace the wording in HJR 2009 with the language of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, which does not include the strict scrutiny reference.


”I’m giving you something we already have and you’re giving us something we don’t know,” he said.


In rejecting Bisignano’s amendment to the resolution on a 28-21 vote, proponents said they want to require that courts apply “strict scrutiny” when considering challenges to gun laws — a change that would prevent future legislatures from approving restrictions that would abridge Iowans’ rights.


“We did not cut and paste” from the U.S. Constitution, said Sen. Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa, “it would be irresponsible to do so.”


Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, said majority Republicans in the Iowa Senate were “tone deaf” to the concerns of Iowans in the wake of school shootings and the “kitchen table” financial issues they face by taking up a constitutional amendment that is “a distraction” when they should be passing a state budget and tackling other higher priorities.


“Tonight it’s as if we’re preparing for the zombie apocalypse,” McCoy said. “I think this is reckless and I think we haven’t thought this through.”


The debate turned contentious when Sen. Rick Bertrand, R-Sioux City, accused opponents of being “disingenuous” in pushing a political agenda in Wednesday debate, praising Zaun for bringing the issue before the Senate and telling him “no pun intended, you take a lot of bullets when you take this on.”


Independent Sen. David Johnson of Ocheyedan agreed with criticisms that called the resolution “extreme” and “reckless,” but he said he was voting with the GOP majority because “I trust the Iowa voter. If this is what the ruling party wants, I’m going to give it to them.”

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