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‘Constitutional carry’ gun law change heading to Iowa governor

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Iowa statehouse

The Iowa Capitol in Des Moines is shown in a July 2019 file photo.

DES MOINES — Legislation that would eliminate a requirement that Iowans obtain a permit to acquire or carry handguns and loosen other state restrictions is headed to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ desk following Senate passage Monday on a 30-17 party-line vote.

Majority GOP senators said adopting permit-less “constitutional carry” provisions of House File 756 — like 18 other states — would enhance Iowans’ individual rights while removing intrusive government regulations. But Democrats said the proposed changes — if signed by the governor — would make Iowans less safe and run counter to public support for the current system of background checks and permitting requirements.

Jason Schultz

Schultz

“This bill fundamentally changes the relationship between our state government and our citizens,” said Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, the bill’s floor manager. “Currently, whether we want to admit it or not, our system of permits is one of mistrust. That means you can exercise a fundamental right but you must prove yourself not guilty in advance.

“That is not how America is supposed to work and I’m not happy with the way our federal government is moving right now. But I know it’s not the way Iowa works and we’re going to deal with that now,” he told his Senate colleagues.

“After House File 756, the honest citizen is free from government intrusion in this aspect of their lives. Those who prove themselves not worthy through their own actions, however, will see their penalties increase. This is the proper role and work of government.”

Currently, to acquire and carry a handgun, an Iowan needs to get a permit from a county sheriff who runs a required federal background check on the individual and then issues a permit that lasts for five years if the applicant meets the criteria. After that, the individual who buys a handgun would be required to display a permit to carry if a law enforcement officer requests to see it.

Proponents said Iowans aged 21 and older who wish to have a permit will still be able to do so under a revamped optional system. Iowans buying a gun from a federally licensed dealer still would have to either pass a federal background check or present a permit to carry.

But firearms purchased from an unlicensed seller over the internet or at a gun show would not be subject to Iowa’s background check or permit requirements.

Critics said the measure would make it easy for felons, domestic abusers and those prohibited based on mental illness to buy handguns in Iowa. Republicans turned back an amendment seeking to maintain Iowa’s background-check requirement that Democrats said would maintain Iowa’s lower firearm homicide rates, lower firearm suicide rates and lower rates of firearm trafficking.

“We don’t need to make it easier for bad guys to get guns,” said Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids.

Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, said Republicans have “lost their way” in protecting Second Amendment rights by taking a direction counter to public opinion polls showing a large majority of Iowans support responsible gun regulations that include background checks.

Proponents contended the new approach actually would result in more background checks, as a permit to purchase or carry a handgun now is issued for five years.

Also, the bill includes language that private sellers may not transfer a firearm if they “know or reasonably should know that the other person is ineligible to possess dangerous weapons.” For a seller to do so would constitute a Class D felony carrying a potential penalty of up to five years in prison and a fine up of to $7,500.

Other provisions would allow law officers to carry a weapon onto school grounds and would preempt local governments from imposing certain restrictions on authorized gun owners.

Reynolds’ office did not respond to a request for comment on HF 756, but Schultz recently told a radio audience that she is “excited” to sign it.

Reynolds refused to support permit-less carry in 2019. She called the background check for a permit to carry, which she had voted for as a state senator in 2010, “good policy and the right thing to do.”

After Monday’s Senate vote, the Iowa chapters of Moms Demand Action — a part of Everytown for Gun Safety — called on Reynolds to veto it.

“Proponents have misled the public about the real impact of this bill, and falsely claimed that it will increase background checks — in reality, the bill does nothing short of completely decimating our current background check laws,” said Traci Kennedy, a volunteer with Iowa Moms Demand Action.

Also Monday, senators voted 30-17 to approve House File 621, a separate measure that would prohibit individuals from suing firearm manufacturers and dealers for damages resulting from a third-party’s criminal or unlawful use of a firearm. Gunmakers still could be sued for breach of warranty, damage caused by a defective firearm and injunctive relief to enforce a law.

The bill would require courts to dismiss any claim with conclusive evidence that the action is groundless and award the defendant reasonable attorney costs.

Schultz said the immunity is needed to guard against frivolous suits.

“This is a good move to protect the Second Amendment rights by making sure that backdoor, gun-control, people-control gun prohibition schemes are not allowed to proliferate in Iowa,” he said.

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