The Iowa Senate debated a resolution that would propose an amendment to the Iowa Constitution that would provide the right to keep and bear arms. It’s something the Senate had done before, but needed to do again due to an oversight in publication of the amendment.
Senator Brad Zaun (R-Urbandale) said he was disappointed with the error made by Secretary of State Paul Pate, which forced the process to start again from the beginning, but it should be a priority for the state.
“We’re one of only six states in the United States that does not have any of our Second Amendment rights in our state constitution,” Zaun said.
At issue first was the strict scrutiny language in the amendment. That phrase prompted an amendment from Sen. Tony Bisignano (D-Des Moines). He wanted an amendment to the state constitution that mirrors the federal constitution.
“I see no reason why we wouldn’t have the Second Amendment just reiterated in our constitution,” Bisignano said. “I would like to stay with the constitution as it’s written word for word. And I think to do otherwise creates a lot of unknown possibilities.”
Bisignano said he worried that having strict scrutiny in the amendment would put in jeopardy many of the restrictions against guns in Iowa code.
“Those were put in because the general assembly debated, voted and we’ve lived with them over the years,” he said. “For example, we have an age limit on short guns — that could go away. We have restrictions on carrying weapons into schools — that could go away. All of those could be challenged.”
All restrictions, he said, would have to meet strict scrutiny.
“I don’t feel the fear that obviously many of you do,” Bisignano said. “That some how, for hundreds of years this has stood — it’s been challenged, but it’s stood. Other than the rhetoric over the past several elections (that has) created this take-your-guns mentality — there’s nobody taking anybody’s guns.
“Obama was going to take everybody’s guns, he didn’t take one gun. The closest we’ve had to having guns taken is with President Trump.”
By adding strict scrutiny, he said, the Republicans have divided the general assembly and divided the senate. He said he was not willing to go on anybody’s word in the room that current restrictions won’t be removed because of strict scrutiny.
“We won’t know until they go to the courts and we get case law,” he said.
Senator Julian Garrett (R-Indianola) said the effort has been a long time in the making — since he was in the Iowa House. He responded to Bisignano by saying they’ve learned because of the preamble to the Second Amendment, which refers to a well regulated militia.
“A lot of liberals who want to take guns away from people have argued that that’s part of the amendment,” Garrett said. “And that the Second Amendment doesn’t apply to us as individuals. It doesn’t guarantee us the right to keep and bear arms — it only applies to a militia.”
Garrett noted the narrow 5-4 decisions in Heller and McDonald.
“Four members of the United States Supreme Court were ready to say the Second Amendment doesn’t protect the rights of individual people,” Garrett said. “Five ruled the other way, but how can we be sure what might happen over the years if we have a little different supreme court? To play it safe, to protect Iowans’ rights, that’s why we’ve got the language that we have here.”
Zaun said it’s simple — Iowa is a sovereign state and wants its own version. He said it’s important to remember Iowa voters will vote if they want this in the constitution or not.
“Most importantly, this does not change current laws we have in place,” Zaun said.
Considering the placement of the Second Amendment — second in the Bill of Rights — Zaun said it’s clear the right was considered extremely important to the founders.
And he said there’s good reason for gun owners to believe their Second Amendment rights are in Democrat crosshairs.
“I know the Democrat nominee for president said many times, and it was a close election, she disagreed with both (Heller and McDonald) cases,” Zaun said. “That is precisely the reason why we’re having this conversation.”
Senator Nate Boulton (D-Des Moines) asked Zaun if this amendment would provider stronger protection, less protection or the same protection of the federal language.
Zaun said it will restore Second Amendment rights that have been eroded through many years.
Boulton ultimately said he supported Bisignano’s amendment because he knows what it will do.
“It couldn’t be more obvious,” he said. “It shouldn’t be difficult to answer a question on whether or not this is more restrictive, less restrictive or the same as the federal constitutional amendment.”
He said it’s problematic that Zaun couldn’t answer the question.
Senator Jake Chapman (R-Adel) said strict scrutiny simply reinforces the idea that the Second Amendment rights should not be infringed.
“It’s the only constitutional amendment (where) we have those words in there,” he said. “Words have meaning. I believe it was our Founder’s intent to have strict scruitny in the Second Amendment. Over the years the courts have eroded that. I think that this amendment reaffirms what the Second Amendment was intended to affirm, but unfortunately the courts have eroded that very meaning. And so now we have a modern terminology called strict scrutiny.”
Freshman Sen. Zach Whiting (R-Spirit Lake) said Boulton’s question couldn’t be answered because nobody can predict any particular judge or panel of judges.
“To me that only affirms what we did yesterday on judicial nominating reform,” he said.
Whiting said there’s been many rulings on the Second Amendment since it was ratified in December of 1791, and it took more than 200 years later for it to finally be recognized as a fundamental, individual, protected right.
“If the federal courts change their jurisprudence on the Second Amendment, we are left hanging in Iowa,” he said. “Let’s just call it what it is — this is a poison pill amendment.”
Whiting noted the Senate is going through the right process by introducing the resolution as it’s better to have two general assemblies and the people of Iowa to vote for a constitutional right rather than four judges on the supreme court to invent a right, like it did for abortion.
“Could they do the same thing in Iowa to give strict scrutiny to Second Amendment rights,” he asked. “Sure they could. But I think this is the right way to do it.”
Rather than confusing and conflating the matter, he said the Iowa Senate should do what it promised the people of Iowa. And, he added, lobbyist declarations don’t matter.
“I don’t care what a lobbyist declaration sheet says,” Whiting said. “What’s dispositive for me is who we are doing this for and that’s for the people of Iowa. It’s for the people standing up in this gallery right now who came down to watch this debate, watch us take a vote and watch us take a stand put our name on the board for the Second Amendment.”
Whiting followed by saying this constitutional amendment, if adopted by the people, is the single most important thing the legislature can do for the Second Amendment in Iowa. He referenced the criticisms from Iowa Gun Owners to the Senate Judiciary Republicans.
“I support the policy behind permitless carry,” Whiting said. “It’s a great bill, but it’s not the most important thing we can do for the Second Amendment. For those of you who like permitless carry, if you think that’s the only thing, the end all, be all, let me tell you this — you’re wrong. This is the most important thing we can do for the Second Amendment in Iowa.”
Senator Zach Wahls (D-Coralville) asked Garrett if strict scrutiny appeared anywhere in the constitution. Garrett said he wasn’t aware of it. Wahls expressed concern over a term that isn’t clearly interpreted.
Bisignano wrapped up comments on his amendment by taking aim at Whiting.
“That my amendment, which is the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution word for word, is a poison pill…so we got the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution, which you have built a shrine to over there, and he calls it a poison pill,” Bisignano said. “Lack of words, bad choice of words — I’d call that youthful indiscretion.”
Bisignano said there’s been 250 years where strict scrutiny could’ve been added to the federal Second Amendment, and it hasn’t happened. He suggested it could be argued that the amendment would apply to a bazooka.
“I know what you want,” Bisignano said. “You know what you want. You know why you want it. Just say it. You don’t want any laws when it comes to guns and arms and ammunition and restrictions. You don’t even want training. You don’t even want people to know how to shoot and you want to sell them a gun. You won’t do anything about the loopholes in the background checks at gun shows.”
Then he returned to Whiting’s comments.
“Senator Whiting thinks this is a great deal. Well, there’s a difference of opinion,” Bisignano said. “But I wouldn’t (call) the Second Amendment a poison pill. This isn’t a joke. I’m not doing this as a joke. If I wanted to do a joke he’d be laughing right now. This is serious.
“This is the one I want to vote on. This is the one I want in the Iowa Constitution and this is my right as a senator to propose it. It’s not a poison pill. It’s not a game. Well, you’re going to get one yes vote and one no vote, just like I am. Stand off. And then we’re going to do it again after the next election. Then we’re going to put it to the people and let the NRA spend $100 million passing it.”
Bisignano touched on the controversy surrounding Iowa Gun Owners and Senate Republicans on the Judiciary committee.
“Senator Schultz finally shut the door on the biggest joke in this debate,” Bisignano said. “Hopefully we won’t have to deal with that again. He did the right thing. His integrity surpassed anything else.”
He finished by asserting his amendment is not a poison pill.
“It’s not a poison pill, it’s a serious amendment,” Bisignano said. “And I ask those who respect the United States Constitution and the Second Amendment to vote for this.”