The Iowa Department of Natural Resources created a firestorm this week with a press release sent out on Dec. 1. The DNR referenced House File 716 and stated the law directs the department to develop a list of cartridges approved for use in rifles to hunt deer in Iowa.
But the law says nothing of the sort.
“House File 716 requires the DNR to recognize cartridges that fit the standard as legal. They do not have the authority to remove cartridges if it fits the definitions in 716,” said State Sen. Jason Schultz. “It did not tell them to develop a list, it put into Iowa code the three factors that decided whether it was legal or not. What the DNR did was overreach what the law told them to do. They’re not supposed to develop a list, they’re supposed to accept anything that fits that formula.”
Iowa Firearms Coalition alerted its members to the DNR’s message and shots were fired, figuratively.
Dave Funk, president of IFC, said the legislature provided guidance to the citizens of Iowa.
“It isn’t up to the DNR to ask us to grovel for justification of what firearm we are going to use year after year,” Funk said. “The legislature provided the guidance for the DNR and the DNR shouldn’t be doing anything other than listing the standards.”
The DNR attempted to clarify its release on Dec. 2. It said nothing will change for the 2020 shotgun hunting seasons starting this weekend and added the department was seeking hunter input ahead of the 2021-22 deer seasons.
However, that release still says the DNR is soliciting information from hunters on cartridges commonly used to hunt deer in Iowa and that hunters may submit their calibers along with their justification to the DNR.
“We don’t have to go out and ask them for permission to use cartridges that meet that requirement. Period. No questions asked,” he said. “Our position is follow the law.”
Schultz acknowledged that the DNR put out an original press release that fails to comply with the letter or intent of the law, which passed this past session.
He also noted that people have already purchased firearms in certain calibers this year and they’ve used them for previous years for the specific purpose of using the legal cartridge in Iowa.
“So, the DNR misstepped,” Schultz said. “I’m not happy about it. I won’t defend it.”
But, he said he doesn’t believe the department as a whole was attempting anything nefarious.
“I do not believe the department meant not cause a wholesale panic destroying their credibility,” he said.
Moving forward, Schultz said he’s comfortable there are enough checks and balances in place to ensure the DNR’s feared course of action is acted upon.
“I think they were trying to reinterpret the law to their benefit when they were not authorized to do so, but I don’t think they were trying to hurt anybody,” Schultz said. “The DNR does not stand a snowball’s chance in hell in going through the administrative rules committee to remove calibers that are acceptable under the legislation.”
The important thing to note is that nothing will change for this deer season. And that means a lot to Schultz.
“People have invested money in the guns they got and they should be able to use them without being afraid all day,” he said.
But, it is worth watching moving forward.
It’s entirely possible the situation is a case of bureaucracy naturally trying to push the boundaries and activists sounding the alarm and doing their job. Legislators will have to take the situation over from here and should send a clear message that the bureaucracy cannot violate the law or attempt such a power grab.
“I would like to reassure Iowa’s sportsmen that, with a Republican trifecta, I have full confidence that the freedoms of gun owners and hunters in Iowa are secure and they have nothing to worry about,” Schultz added.