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Week 8 of the 89th General Assembly saw movement on several important issues. In this edition of Freedom Watch, I will highlight Covid relief and efforts to protect free speech on our college campuses and public schools. In the Judiciary Committee review, we look at the National Instant Criminal Background Check (NICS) system for purchasing firearms, and the disinformation campaign being waged by those who fear freedom more than they fear tyranny.

COVID Relief:
The Iowa House passed a COVID-19 relief package for Iowa taxpayers and businesses affected by COVID-19.

  • It provides $128 million in tax relief to Iowans by exempting pandemic-related grants and unemployment benefits from state income tax.
  • It will provide meaningful financial relief for Iowans hit hard by the pandemic.
  • It was government that forced shutdowns which led to job and income loss. House Republicans believe that taxing pandemic relief money and growing government is not the right approach for Iowa.
  • The funds to pay for this initiative will come from the Taxpayer Relief Fund, which currently has a $90.2 million balance. The additional funding needed will come from the ending balance.
  • For information, the December 2020 Revenue Estimating Conference projected the FY 21 ending balance will be $443.4 million.
  • The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.

HSB 237 – Protecting Free Speech in Schools
Protecting the right to free speech at Iowa’s Regent Universities has been a top priority for House Republicans across many different committees. Republican legislators had numerous instances brought to their attention in which our universities violated students’ right to free speech. In each case it was conservative viewpoints that were being assaulted. I received several complaints from students from our area attending regent universities, that described a cancel culture participated in by both students and faculty that silenced dissenting voices and left conservative students fearful to speak out.

It is clear these are not isolated instances, but rather a systemic problem on college campuses and increasingly in K-12 schools. A school’s role is to educate, not indoctrinate students into a selected political ideology. This must stop, and House Republicans are advancing several pieces of legislation to do just that.

The Board of Regents put together recommendations for campuses to adopt to address this issue and protect free speech on college campuses. This is a good step and builds upon legislative initiatives passed a few years ago that directed protections for free speech.

With the help of a number of staff and fellow legislators, I had a bill drafted in the Judiciary Committee similar to those recommendations to ensure Regents and K-12 school districts take proper action. Highlights of the legislation include:

  • Ensuring policies and procedures are put in place to protect First Amendment rights as well as reporting procedures and policies to address violations.
  • New training requirements, restrictions and penalties for First Amendment violations.

This legislation has passed out of Judiciary Committee, but discussions are ongoing regarding improvements to be made before it comes to the floor for a full vote.

Judiciary Review & Myth-busting: Background Checks Remain in Place Under House Omnibus Firearms Bill
Since I introduced HSB254, those who fear the 2nd Amendment have been engaged in fearmongering and the spreading of false information. Let us start with the reality that 18 other states have constitutional carry and systems in place similar to the initiatives contained in HSB254. Despite this fact, Republicans are accused of eliminating background checks for firearms purchases.

A simple understanding of current law and the proposed changes in HSB254 shows accusations that Background Checks are eliminated to be inaccurate. This legislation simply allows Iowans to exercise their 2nd Amendment rights with less state government interference.

In current law, purchasing a firearm can be done several ways. A person wishing to buy a handgun or revolver must have a Permit to Purchase (also called Permit to Acquire), or a Permit to Carry. If an individual wants to own a handgun that will be kept in the home and not carried on the person, a Permit to Purchase is appropriate. If the handgun is to be carried on the person, then the Permit to Carry is required.

If someone wants to purchase a long gun (rifle or shotgun) they can either use their Permit to Purchase or they can go through a National Instant Criminal Background Check (NICS). The Permit to Purchase and the Permit to Carry are issued by local sheriffs. These permits are good for five years, and during that time a person can use these permits to purchase firearms from federally licensed firearms dealers without the need for additional background checks. Training is not required to obtain a Permit to Purchase, and simple training is required on a one-time basis for obtaining a Permit to Carry. This training mostly focuses on laws regarding firearms and does not require live fire training.

If HSB254 becomes law, the permits will become optional. Iowans will not be required to have a Permit to Carry or a Permit to Purchase, but ALL laws restricting felons, domestic abusers, and those with mental health problems from having weapons remain unchanged. Instead of presenting a permit, Iowans will simply fill out the necessary paperwork and be run through the federal NICS background check, the same check required when getting a permit. If they are cleared by NICS the purchase will be complete. The background check, not permits, is the mechanism that would prevent the illegal purchase of firearms by those who cannot legally possess them.

In the case of private sales, current law requires that the person selling the firearm ask to see the permit of the buyer. Since the permits becomes optional under the new proposals, new code language would state, “a person shall not transfer a firearm to another person if the person knows or reasonably should know that the other person is prohibited from receiving or possessing a firearm under Section 724.26 or federal law.” Additionally, a Class D felony is established for those who violate this provision.

Because of these changes, it is highly likely that more background checks, not less, will result. These revisions will also respect the constitutional rights of our citizens.

NICS Explained
NICS is the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and is run by the FBI and ATF. It was created in 1993 and allows those with Federal Firearms Licenses (FFL), such as gun shop owners, pawn shop dealers, and retailers to determine if a person can legally buy or own a firearm.

NICS collects information from the FBI and state and local governments. An FFL cannot see the information, they are simply told a person is, or is not eligible to own or purchase a firearm.

In 2019, NICS processed 8,177,732 background checks and there were an additional 20,192,018 users processed by the states under NICS. Data also shows that in 2019, it took, on average, less than one minute for NICS to approve or deny an applicant.

Myth-busted: Although changes are made to the operation of the system, Background Checks remain in place under HSB254.  Replacing a Permit to Carry or a Permit to Purchase with a NICS check does not make Iowans any less safe and does not allow disqualified persons to have firearms. A NICS check is simply a different method to assure only law-abiding Iowans have firearms.

Who can and cannot have a firearm?
Given the level of disinformation by those who fear the freedom of their fellow citizens more than they do tyranny, it is worth repeating that the list of who can and cannot have a firearm does not change under HSB254. Those prohibited by state or federal law remain prohibited. This includes, but is not limited to, persons convicted of felonies or domestic abuse, those who have abused drugs or alcohol, and persons with adjudicated mental health issues.

Author: Steven Holt


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