After lengthy and sometimes emotional debate, the Iowa House last night approved a wide-ranging gun rights bill and sent it over to the Senate for their consideration.
Republicans argued it restores Iowans’ Second Amendment rights that have long been denied. Democrats called it dangerous and predicted more gun violence if it becomes law.
It was an exciting day for Rep. Matt Windschitl (R-Missouri Valley).
“We have a bill that advances Iowans rights,” Windschitl said in opening remarks on the bill. “It expands their freedoms and affords them more individual responsibility to make decisions for themselves.”
The bill, which is the product of ten years of work by Windschitl, allows Iowans to carry weapons at the statehouse, makes weapons permits confidential, classifies fewer guns as offensive weapons, requires less frequent background checks, approves handgun possession by children, and, enacts so-called "stand your ground" language.
That means doing away with a duty to retreat if your life or safety are threatened.
The racial implications of that have been stressed since the bill was introduced. That came out again in the debate.
Rep. Ras Smith (R-Waterloo), who is African-American, believes the bill will protect people who fire a weapon because they’re threatened by someone of color.
“As recently as April 2016 there were cross burnings in Dubuque,” Smith said. “I wonder if the people who set that cross ablaze will see this bill as a get-out-of-jail-free card based on their reason.”
To make his point, Smith put a hoodie over his suit and tie to show how he might present a threat.
Looking up to the gallery, Representative Windschitl acknowledged the two young Gibson sisters from New Virginia, who lobbied for the right to handle pistols under the supervision of their parents:
“This is one of my favorite parts of the bill,” Windschitl said. “Natalie, Meredith, this is yours.”
Windschitl accepted a Democratic amendment to require the parent be able to be close enough to observe the child who’s handling the gun.
But on another issue involving adults, Republicans rejected a Democratic proposal to require hands-on training to get a gun permit.
Rep. Wes Breckenridge (D-Newton) said the online training the bill allows isn’t enough for an amateur.
“They’ll go online for two or three hours, turn in their paperwork to get a weapon, then purchase a weapon,” Breckinridge said. “They may never handle it, or if they do handle it, it’s very minimal.
“They may have never shot it and they carry it around,” Breckinridge added. “To me that’s not protecting Iowans.”
“We have a right to carry a firearm for protection and self-defense,” Windschitl countered. Putting a 20 hour requirement on anyone who wants to exercise that right seems egregious.”
On another issue, current law prevents cities and counties from passing gun restrictions stricter than state law.
The bill will make it easier to enforce that.
Rep. David Heaton (R-Mount Pleasant) voted against the bill because of that provision.
Heaton says Mount Pleasant should be able to ban guns in city council chambers after their mayor was killed and two city council members wounded by a disgruntled citizen back in 1986.
“My town will never forget what happened,” Heaton said.
Earlier in the day, members of the Iowa Firearems Coalition met at the capitol to be briefed on the bill.
The gun debate was scheduled on the day the group had already designated as Second Amendment Day on the Hill.
Vice-President Kurt Liske told the group the scheduling was a way for lawmakers to thank the activists who helped elect Republicans.
“The fact that they're doing this is a real testament to you guys,” Liske said, “the fact that you're out there helping with campaign work, things like that."
One Democratic lawmaker expressed concern that anyone voting "no" on the bill could be targeted in the next election.
“That could allow someone to send out a postcard of accusing some or all of us of being against the second amendment, against allowing people to protect themselves and protect their home,” said Rep. Mary Wolfe (D-Clinton.) “That's not what a no vote on this bill means.”
Windschitl advised the activists not to relax until the bill is on the governor’s desk.
"We've still got our work cut out for us when we move this over to the Senate," Windschitl said.
Beyond that, he said he’ll be back next year with ideas for further expansion of gun rights, including what’s called constitutional carry. That allows the legal carrying of weapons without a government permit.