Guns and gun rights

Kate Payne

Joining students across the country, hundreds of Iowa students walked out of classes Wednesday to honor the 17 people killed at a school in Parkland, Florida one month ago. While some students were on spring break, others staged demonstrations in Dubuque, Davenport, Fairfield, Council Bluffs, Grinnell and West Liberty. / Flickr

The U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms, but Iowa is one of a handful of states that does not mention this right in its constitution.

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer and IPR correspondent Joyce Russell talk with lawmakers for and against the proposal to add the right to bear arms to the Iowa Constitution.
Carol Browne

The mass shooting earlier this month at a Florida high school has inspired a youth-led protest movement across the country, including in Iowa, with students demanding changes to gun control legislation.

On this River to River, Ben Kieffer is joined by Ryan Westhoff, a sophomore at Cedar Falls High School. Westhoff participated in a protest outside Congressman Rod Blum’s office in Cedar Falls on Friday.

John Pemble/IPR

A limited exception to Iowa’s law making it a felony to carry firearms onto school property has cleared an initial hurdle at the statehouse, with the backing of the Iowa Firearms Coalition.

Under the bill, a gun owner with a permit to carry can remain armed while driving onto school property for the sole purpose of transporting a student, but without entering the school building.

The bill cleared a three-member bipartisan panel and will now be considered by the full Senate Judiciary Committee.

John Pemble/IPR

Advocates for and against gun rights spoke out at the Capitol today on a proposed amendment to the Iowa constitution.   

The amendment states that Iowans’ rights to acquire, keep, possess, transport, carry, transfer, and use arms for all legitimate purposes shall not be infringed, and that courts should strictly scrutinize any attempt to regulate them.    

Rep. Matt Windschitl (R-Missouri Valley) said the amendment backs up second amendment rights already secured by the U.S. Constitution

USMC/Wikimedia Commons

Kim Reynolds’ administration is backing off proposed rules for guns in Iowa day cares, something the Department of Human Services up to now has not addressed.    

DHS was scheduled to present the proposed rules before state lawmakers last week, but the item was  pulled from the Administrative Rules Review Committee agenda.  

At her weekly news conference, Reynolds said they want to hear from all stakeholders first.

“We hadn’t done that,” Reynolds said.   “We want to make sure we're looking at that from all perspectives.” 

grinnell walk
Katarina Sostaric / IPR

Five years after the Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut, some Grinnell residents are asking their neighbor, the president of the National Rifle Association (NRA), to speak with them about curbing gun violence.

Iowan Pete Brownell is CEO of Brownells, an international firearm business with a large warehouse and retail store in Grinnell. He was elected president of the NRA in May.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Gov. Kim Reynolds today lamented the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history that occurred in Las Vegas on Sunday, leaving at least 59 people dead and more than 500 injured.   

“Nobody wants to wake up at five in the morning and read the news we all got up to this morning,”  Reynolds said, beginning her weekly news conference.  “I was sickened by the horrific act.”

Reynolds was asked if she would be proposing new gun control initiatives in light of the shooting.

iowa city
Kris / flickr

An Iowa City man charged with shooting three people on the city’s downtown pedestrian mall will claim a "stand your ground" defense at trial.

Lamar Wilson is accused of killing one person and injuring two others in an August shooting that police have said was not random.

Wilson’s attorneys submitted court documents Monday stating he intends to rely on self-defense, defense of others, defense against a forcible felony, defense of property, and the right to "stand your ground".

Michael Saechang

For groups trying to affect firearms policy, what are their priorities, challenges, strategies for the future? Where is money and lobbying efforts going? What do Americans think about access to guns, and what do those view say about their own politics? In this River to River program as part of our continuing Guns in Iowa series, host Ben Kieffer gets two looks at the national gun debate.  

Iowa DNR

Next week as classes begin, Northwood Kensett secondary principal Keith Fritz will include something in his fall assembly speech that’s not heard often in Iowa schools.

“I mention, in addition to ‘we have the right to search your lockers, guys, we’re going to have a great year this year,” he says. "Those of you who hunt, federal firearms regulations prohibit you from having those on campus.’ And that’s all it takes, they just comply.” 

John Pemble/IPR

Gun rights activists are renewing their call to allow firearms at the Iowa State Fair, after a violent incident on the fairgrounds Tuesday night.   

A man was stabbed and critically injured in a fight involving four young men on the southwest corner of the fairgrounds.    

On social media, the Iowa Firearms Coalition is urging the state legislature to end the ban.

"If the Iowa State Fair can't stop violent crime during the fair they should allow lawful citizens to adequately protect themselves,"  the organization wrote on Twitter.


One part of Iowa’s new comprehensive gun rights law that went into effect in July may end up in court. Under the new statute, a gunowner can sue any local government that tries to keep firearms out of public buildings.  

Dozens of counties with courthouse weapons bans are potential targets. 

Jackson County Chief Deputy Steve Schroeder says they lived through a nightmare a few years back at their courthouse in Maquoketa. 

Bruno Stergodt / Wikimedia Commons

An overhaul of Iowa’s gun laws earlier this year included a controversial "stand your ground" provision. It means an individual who feels threatened has no duty to retreat before using deadly force for self-defense.

Gun rights groups consider the change a victory for gun owners, but the ripple effects of similar laws in other states have raised concerns among black Iowans. Some African-American residents of Waterloo are still grappling with what the "stand your ground" law could mean for themselves, their families and young people of color.

Amy Mayer/IPR

Several new gun-related measures enacted during the 2017 Iowa legislative session are taking effect and Iowa Public Radio is exploring their implications for the state. But it’s hard to follow gun news if you don’t speak the language. Come along on visits to Camp Dodge, Brownells retail gun shop, and the Story County Sheriff’s office to learn about different types of firearms.

John Pemble/IPR

Iowans with permits to carry handguns can now bring their weapons into the Iowa statehouse under a new state law that’s been in effect since July 1st.   

Statehouse security officers say so far enforcement has gone well.   

Only a few people have displayed their permits and been allowed to enter with a concealed pistol or revolver.   

Since shortly after the September 11 terror attacks, anyone entering the Iowa statehouse has been required to leave their guns or knives behind.  

Now with a permit to carry you can bring in a pistol or revolver.  


Boards of Supervisors in two Iowa counties have voted to get rid of bans on weapons in their courthouses, ahead of a new firearms law going into effect July 1.   

The votes are in conflict with an order by Chief Justice Mark Cady banning weapons in courthouses in all 99 counties.  

Woodbury County has banned weapons in the courthouse since 2014.  

But the new state firearms law says local governments can be sued over weapons restrictions, so supervisors voted Tuesday 3 to 1 to lift the ban.    

Johnathon Choate / UI College of Public Health

After a spike in gun violence in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines over the last few years, the state of Iowa is moving towards approaching violence as a public health issue, following the example of cities like Baltimore.

During this hour of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Dr. Leana Wen, health commissioner for the city of Baltimore, who has been approaching Baltimore's issues with poverty, gun violence, and addiction as public health issues, rather than criminal justice problems. 

wellington heights intersection
Katarina Sostaric / IPR

Carletta Knox-Seymour says gun violence came to the forefront in Cedar Rapids in 2015 after a 14-year-old boy shot and killed a 15-year-old. 

"Many facets of the city came together recognizing, at that point, how devastating things must have become in order for this to happen," she says. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

Calling it an honor, Governor Branstad today signed into law what’s being called the most expansive gun  rights bill in Iowa history, to the applause of a roomful of supporters.  

The bill expands self-defense rights for gun owners, so-called Stand Your Ground. It also allows gun owners with permits to carry weapons into the statehouse. And it protects the confidentiality of permit holders.  

Branstad said he has always supported the second amendment.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Branstad says a controversial gun rights bill that gained final legislative approval last week is reasonable and fair with adequate safeguards to protect public safety.   

He says he will thoroughly review the bill before making a final decision, but he appears poised to sign it into law. 

The bill includes new legal protections for gunowners who fire to defend life or property, as well as a wide range of other gun rights provisions.     

John Pemble/IPR

A bill to strengthen an Iowa gun owner’s right to use deadly force with no duty to retreat, also known as a stand-your-ground provision,  passed the Iowa Senate Tuesday by a vote of 33 to 17.   

The wide-ranging bill which is backed by the National Rifle Association also expands gun rights for children, protects the confidentiality of weapons permit holders, and allows a gun owner to go five years instead of one without a background check.

Joyce Russell/IPR

The only Independent member of the Iowa Senate, David Johnson of Ocheyedan, is urging lawmakers not to approve a gun rights bill that will allow anyone with a permit to be armed at the Iowa Statehouse.   

The provision is part of a wide-ranging NRA-backed bill that has passed the House and awaits debate by the full Senate.  

At a statehouse news conference, Johnson held up his own weapons permit, which he says shows he supports the second amendment.

“This is my concealed carry permit,” Johnson said.  “I do have that.”  

Kay Henderson/Radio Iowa

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).

Joyce Russell/IPR

African-Americans turned out for a hearing at the statehouse today on a wide-ranging gun rights bill they say will threaten their safety if it becomes law.   

The bill includes so-called stand-your-ground language, along with broad new rights for carrying weapons.  

Under stand-your-ground, a gunowner can fire if he believes himself to be in danger.  

Laurel Clinton from Des Moines says her three sons may look dangerous to some because they’re black.

Sarah Boden/IPR

Supporters of a Cedar Rapids man who was shot by a police officer and is now paralyzed, spoke at Tuesday night’s city council meeting. The group then peacefully protested outside of Coe College, not far from where 37-year-old Jerime “Danky” Mitchell was shot on November 1.

Activists want institutional changes implemented to improve how Cedar Rapids police officers interact with the community, especially black residents. They’re also demanding the release of the dash camera video of the shooting of Danky Mitchell. 

Kevin Satoh

Twenty-five years ago today, on November 1, 1991, a 28-year-old University of Iowa student went on a shooting rampage, killing four members of the university faculty and one student: his professor Christopher Goertz, department chairman Dwight Nickolson, associate professor Robert Smith, fellow researcher Linhua Shan, and Anne Cleary, an associate vice president and professor of education. 

The shooter, a graduate student from China named Gang Lu, also seriously wounded another student, Miya Rodolfo-Sioson, before he shot himself.

John Pemble/IPR

Democrats in the Iowa Senate who stood in the way of gun rights bills are now facing opposition for re-election in several districts around the state.  

The Iowa Firearms Coalition is working to defeat the incumbents, in hopes of achieving a Republican majority in the Senate.

Last year the Republican-controlled House approved bills to protect the confidentiality of gun permit holders, and to eliminate age restrictions for children handling guns with adult supervision.    In 2015 a wide-ranging gun bill would have eliminated background checks for private handgun sales.

John Pemble/IPR
John Pemble/IPR

There are enough state troopers roaming the Iowa State Fairgounds, so fairgoers don’t need to bring in their own weapons to protect themselves.     

That’s from Governor Branstad, commenting on the current ban on fairgoers carrying loaded guns, even  for those with concealed weapons permits.

Branstad says he supports the right to carry.

Jon Pemble/IPR file photo

Iowa's senior U.S. senator says his proposed gun-control amendment failed to reach the 60-vote mark Monday because of disagreements over the Second Amendment right to bear arms. 

"Don't forget (the Second Amendment) is just as important as the fundamental rights of the First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Fifth Amendment," says Sen. Chuck Grassley. "You can't compromise people's constitutional rights."