Full disclosure, unlike many of our news articles on what happens at the Capitol, this is an opinion piece. Sure, there’s some news mixed in, but please understand this is written as an opinion.
In addition to the Iowa Senate passing a resolution proposing an amendment to the Iowa Constitution regarding the right to keep and bear arms, the Iowa House passed the same legislation in its chamber on Wednesday.
But the debates were quite a bit different.
Debate in the Senate featured its contentious moments, but for the most part it stayed away from emotional appeals. Both parties did a decent job of making their arguments.
House Democrats, though, seemed determined to vilify guns and were reliant upon emotional arguments. House Republicans, outside of Rep. Matt Windschitl (R-Missouri Valley) who floor managed the bill and Rep. Andy McKean (R-Anamosa) who actually spoke against the resolution, were content to sit and listen to a two-hour long lecture from liberals.
Republicans were likely waiting for one of their own to stand up and at least deliver a counter punch, but it never happened.
Democrats started the debate with an amendment from Rep. Scott Ourth (D-Ackworth). The amendment would’ve simply copy and pasted the language from the federal Second Amendment into the Iowa Constitution. Every Democrat voted for that amendment as it presented an opportunity to be a pro-gun vote on something they knew wouldn’t get passed.
Many House Democrats said they support the Second Amendment.
Representative Mary Wolfe (D-Clinton) said every member of the Iowa House Democrat caucus supports the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution. She guessed every member of the Iowa House would raise his or her hand if she asked who supported the Second Amendment of the U.S.
She said Democrats do support the unalienable right to self defense and self preservation as embodied in the federal Second Amendment.
The amendment failed to pass, but provided Democrats with plenty of political cover. Representative McKean also joined the Democrats by supporting the amendment.
McKean stood to speak first on the resolution after the amendment failed. He said the resolution put him in a very difficult position.
“I, too, revere the Second Amendment,” he said.
But he has strong reservations about telling judges to apply strict scrutiny to any and all gun-related legislation.
What followed as a heavy criticism of the resolution from the only Republican other than Rep. Matt Windschitl to speak on the floor about the resolution.
McKean provided Democrats with plenty of ammunition to use throughout the rest of the evening’s debate.
Tidbits like only three other states have strict scrutiny language. Strict scrutiny was proposed and rejected the last few years and rejected in eight states — six red states and two blue states. It’s expensive with unpredictable legal challenges.
“Finally, I firmly believe that while almost all Iowans strongly support the Second Amendment, they also support reasonable legislation recognizing public safety concerns,” McKean said. “This strict scrutiny requirement would tie the hands of future legislators. While I support enshrining the Second Amendment in the Iowa Constitution, I wish we were not including the strict scrutiny requirement.”
Ironically, after basically summing up many of the talking points of Democrats, McKean eventually voted for the resolution. More on that later.
Immediately after McKean spoke, Rep. Brian Meyer shared his thoughts.
“I almost turned my light off because I (found) myself agreeing with everything that Rep. McKean just said,” Meyer said. “This stuff could not be said any better than what he just stated.”
Meyer said he’s received many emails asking him to support the Second Amendment being inserted into the Iowa Constitution. But this resolution, he said, doesn’t do that. The language is different from the language in the federal Second Amendment.
Windschitl explained the need for the bill — abuses time and time again on individual, fundamental rights. He pointed to multiple bills filed this legislative session by members of the House that have arbitrary restrictions all over them.
The conversation turned to strict scrutiny and Meyer suggested the definition of strict scrutiny could be changed by future judges since the term refers to judicial review.
Democrats continued to fire away at the resolution and at gun violence throughout the evening — even though they all showed how much they supposedly support the federal Second Amendment just before during the debate on Rep. Ourth’s amendment and the vote for that amendment.
Representative Bruce Hunter (D-Des Moines) said the resolution has nothing to do with the Second Amendment and everything to do with strict scrutiny.
Representative Heather Matson (D-Ankeny) fought back tears as she delivered her remarks.
She started by talking about watching television coverage of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Newtown, CT.
“I watched in horror and I could not turn away,” she said.
A few years ago, she said, she picked her children up from school one day and they told her about an active shooting drill that had happened. They told her about hiding in a bathroom.
“And it was horrifying,” Matson said. “And they were scared.”
The kids got out of the car and ran into the house.
“I’m not going to lie, I sat in my car and I cried,” Matson said. “And all I could think of was how did we get here? How did we get here when we have active shooter drills in schools? How did we get here when there is now a market for bulletproof backpacks and bulletproof blankets? Why aren’t we actually just solving the problem?
“There are plenty of people who do not want to hear this, but we have a gun violence epidemic in this country and it needs to be addressed.”
She worries that strict scrutiny will take away “commonsense” gun safety laws already on the books and restrict future legislatures from doing what might be right and necessary in future years.
Meyer spoke for a second time, wondering how a Republican House that is so concerned with judicial activism to the point it wants to reform the nominating commissions could reconcile the fact this resolution, in his words, could lead to thousands of lawsuits that would have to be decided by “activist judges.”
Rep. Windschitl did an admirable job, but he was the lone Republican to speak in favor of the resolution on the floor of the House. He was the only one defending it.
He took many bullets, and dodged most of them. But after watching Senate Republicans team up to defend the resolution so boldly and relatively flawlessly just hours before, the House debate on the Republican side left much to be desired.
In the end, what some observers might see, is this fact… two Republicans spoke on the resolution. One supported it, one did not.
Yes, Rep. McKean voted for the resolution in the end. But he spoke at 5:44 p.m. The vote happened at 7:12 p.m. McKean’s criticisms of the resolution were regurgitated by Democrats over and over again during the stretch of nearly 90 minutes that filled that bloc of time.
The damage was done with his words. His vote did not impact anything in the end. His words, however, certainly seemed to shape the sharp criticisms that flowed from Democrats until Rep. Windschitl’s closing remarks.
Representative Brian Meyer was not lying when he said he could not agree more with Rep. McKean’s words. Nor was he lying when he said he couldn’t possibly have stated it any better.
Rep. McKean’s words caused irreparable harm.
Many Democrats spoke in opposition. The debate was dominated by the opposition. It was dominated by Democrats. To be honest, it really wasn’t much of a debate at all.
That’s not to say Rep. Windschitl wasn’t able to refute many, if not all, of their talking points, but the reality is when only one representative out of 100 stands up to support the bill it’s rough. And when so much time passes between responses, criticisms pile up higher, and higher, and higher. It doesn’t take long to make a mountain out of a mole hill.
If an average Iowan views that debate and isn’t already inclined to support the resolution, it’s difficult to imagine anything they heard would get them on board.
That’s crazy considering how well the Senate Republicans handled things in their chamber.
Again, I cannot stress enough that this is in no way an indictment of Rep. Windschitl and his responses. He did fine. He had some great soundbites, was measured, reasoned, composed and knowledgeable.
But he stood alone.
Republicans have the numbers in the Iowa House, for now. There’s strength in numbers. They’d be wise to utilize that strength while they still have it.