Iowa Gun Rights Amendment: What a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ Vote Could Change | Regional government


Tom Barton Cedar Rapids Gazette

DES MOINES, Iowa — Voters in Iowa in November will be asked to add language to the Iowa Constitution that states it is a “fundamental individual right” to own and bear arms, and that any restriction on this right is invalid unless it meets the requirements of “rigorous scrutiny”.

A new coalition of gun safety advocates said the pro-gun amendment would ban Iowans-backed safety measures, such as gun safety training, universal background checks and the requirement for a license to carry a weapon in public.

Republicans have argued for the measure for years, saying Iowa is one of six states without protections in its constitution for the right to own and bear arms.

Democrats and gun safety advocates say Republicans are misleading Iowans when they say the amendment is equivalent to the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The language of “strict control”, they say, could lead to courts overturning gun restrictions already in place.

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“Inserting gun rights with strict control into the (Iowa) Constitution would tip the balance of power, elevating access to guns above public health and safety,” said Connie Ryan, executive director of the Des Moines-based Interfaith Alliance of Iowa and member of the Iowans Coalition for Responsible Gun Laws. “It’s unacceptable and, quite frankly, it’s dangerous.”

The Iowa Firearms Coalition, a firearms rights group, said in a statement that “American courts have long recognized that the right to own and bear arms is a fundamental right that pre-existed the Constitution and which is protected – not granted – by the Second Amendment. Although it is the ultimate guarantor of our other rights, Iowa is one of six states that do not protect this vital right in their constitutions.

Iowa constitutional law professors say the amendment dictates the level of judicial review Iowa courts must apply when considering whether gun restrictions in the state are permitted.

“Regardless of your positions on guns, normally the courts are the ones that generally decide the level of (judicial) review,” said Mark Kende, director of Drake University’s Center for Constitutional Law. “Even the US Constitution has no levels of control.”

Kende said the poll creates other problems.

“Do we want the legislature to tell the courts how to do things? Kende asked. He said he was not advocating a position on the amendment or how Iowans should vote.

“It’s the legislature becoming more interventionist with what the court is doing in more specific ways that some people say creates separation of powers issues.”

Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, who sponsored the gun amendment at the Iowa House, said it serves as “an important firewall” to protect Iowa’s “fundamental right to possess and bear arms” and to protect themselves.

Holt also called the argument “utterly ridiculous” that the amendment would lead the courts to strike down gun restrictions already in place, including background checks and banning criminals from possessing firearms.

“It’s a narrowly tailored compelling government interest,” Holt said. “We don’t want criminals to have guns. We don’t want violent people to have guns.

“Reasonable gun laws on the books will not be affected and federal background check requirements will not be affected.”

Some Iowa legal experts say the issue is not so clear cut.

Rigorous review

“Strict scrutiny” is the biggest legal hurdle for legislation. That would require any restrictions on gun rights to be narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling government interest, such as public safety, Drake University’s Kende said.

“Most attempts at gun regulation are going to be struck down by the courts because strict scrutiny means exactly what it says,” he said. “The court really wants to see precision in the law, and if it sees any vagueness or thinks the law goes too far or doesn’t accomplish what it’s supposed to do, it will strike it down.”

The Iowa Firearms Coalition states on its website that “strict scrutiny” is “a nearly impossible test for a violation of a fundamental right.”

What the amendment does

Kende and University of Iowa law professor Todd Pettys, who has written on gun rights issues, said the proposed amendment would establish a much tighter legal framework for adoption new restrictions on firearms in Iowa – a stricter framework than that at the federal level.

Until recently, federal courts first asked whether a challenged law imposed a burden on gun rights protected by the Second Amendment. If so, the courts have reviewed a challenged law with varying levels of scrutiny, depending on the onerousness of the requirement and the importance of the right protected, Pettys said.

Most often, they applied a test called an “interim review,” Pettys said. He asks whether the government has asserted a significant interest in the settlement — in this case, public safety — and whether the settlement has actually advanced that interest.

Courts often decide this issue by judging empirical evidence presented by a state, such as evidence that a law intended to reduce gunshot deaths actually did so.

The legal landscape, however, changed after a US Supreme Court ruling in June. In New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, the court struck down a New York gun safety law requiring a license to carry a gun outside the home and to “demonstrate a special need for self-protection” in public places.

This is the Supreme Court‘s first major Second Amendment decision since its 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, who protected the right to have a handgun for home defense.

It was the first time the Supreme Court had affirmed an individual right — as opposed to a collective right — to gun ownership that was separate from the “militia clause” in the Second Amendment, Pettys said.

Writing for the majority in that 5-4 Heller decision, the now deceased Judge Antonin Scalia said the Second Amendment “protects an individual right to possess a firearm unrelated to service in a militia, and to use this weapon for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense in the home.”

Scalia’s notice opened the door to the elimination of some public transport regulations and bans, but it did not immediately reverse many long-standing gun bans. Most challenges to gun regulations since the Heller decision have failed, Pettys said — hence a push from the National Rifle Association urging states to pass “strict control” amendments.

Defending the handgun licensing law, New York argued that the right to carry a gun for self-defense outside the home was not absolute.

The Supreme Court, however, ruled that the New York law stretched Heller’s limits because it gave state officials too much discretion. The majority opinion said the law violated the 14th Amendment by “preventing law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their Second Amendment right to hold and bear arms in public.”

The court’s six conservative justices said New York’s just cause requirement was inconsistent with the country’s historical tradition of gun regulation, and that historical precedent was needed to justify modern law.

The ruling, however, does not override objective licensing requirements that exist in many states, such as fingerprinting, background checks and firearms training. Nor does it repeal existing state and federal prohibitions on who is qualified to own a firearm, according to national legal experts.

The judges also said gun regulations prohibiting guns in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings were permitted.

Iowa’s proposed amendment, however, would be even more protective of gun rights, Pettys and Kende said.

“Even Judge Scalia – who was certainly a supporter of gun rights – said there were permitted restrictions, but it’s not 100% clear that some of them would survive under strict scrutiny. and explicit in Iowa.”

“Common Sense” Gun Laws

The Iowa Firearms Coalition argues that “strict scrutiny” is the proper test for basic rights, such as those granted under the First and Second Amendments.

“There is (a) significant political element that wishes to either reinterpret the contemporary understanding of the meaning of the Second Amendment by reversing Supreme Court precedent – ​​filling the court if necessary – or by modifying or repealing the Amendment itself. same,” the coalition said. in a report.

“If that were to happen, the presence of the Liberty Amendment” – what the Iowa Gun Coalition calls the Ballot Amendment – “in the Iowa Constitution would preserve a strong protection of these rights at the state level”.

But Kende said that for Iowans who support gun rights — but don’t think those rights are absolute and support what they see as reasonable gun laws — “they have problems because they won’t get reasonable limitations as often under this (amendment), if at all.”

He said “a person’s belief in reasonable gun restrictions will be nullified if they vote for this particular (amendment) under strict scrutiny.”

“But their belief in gun (rights) — to the extent that they have one — and the ability to have guns without restrictions, relatively, that would be vindicated,” Kende said. “If they believe strongly in ‘common sense gun laws,’ then those laws would all be in jeopardy.”

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