How a gun rights amendment got on the 2022 election ballot

Gun Rights

The option to strengthen gun rights protections in the Iowa Constitution will be on the ballot this fall.

What is the amendment? 

The proposed constitutional amendment says: “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The sovereign state of Iowa affirms and recognizes this right to be a fundamental individual right. Any and all restrictions of this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny.”

It could hinder future attempts to pass gun control laws in the state.

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Voters have the option to vote “yes” to add this language to the Iowa Constitution, or they can vote “no” to reject it.

How did we get here?

Republican lawmakers and gun rights activities have worked for years to get this proposal on the ballot. Richard Rogers, board member and lobbyist for the Iowa Firearms Coalition, said the group has been working for more than a decade.

He said it was a response to courts across the country upholding gun restrictions, which he saw as attempts to “get around” the intent of the Second Amendment.

What happens if it’s passed?

If passed, the Iowa constitutional amendment would come into play when existing and future Iowa gun control laws are challenged in court. Courts use different tests to decide if a law should stand or be struck down. The proposed amendment says gun laws must be evaluated with the test called “strict scrutiny.”

What is “strict scrutiny?”

Todd Petty, a law professor at the University of Iowa, called strict scrutiny, “the toughest test, the most skeptical test that you can ask of a restriction.”

Petty said in this case, it means any state laws that are seen as restricting gun rights would be more likely to be struck down by a court.

A U.S. Supreme Court decision issued in June strengthened protections for gun rights, which means a lot of laws restricting guns in public will likely get struck down based on that.

Strict scrutiny means any state laws that are seen as restricting gun rights would be more likely to be struck down by a court.

If this U.S. Supreme Court ruling had been in place years ago, Petty said the National Rifle Association may not have pushed for constitutional amendments that tell courts to use strict scrutiny to evaluate gun laws. Three other states have passed similar amendments.

Rogers said the coalition sought to reach the strict scrutiny standard, but that it “won’t matter” after this summer’s U.S. Supreme Court decision.

“At the time that this was drafted over a decade ago, we believed that to be the gold standard, the highest level attainable for us.”

Still, he said the amendment is still important, as Iowa is one of six states that don’t have specific gun rights protections in their constitution.

What do groups against the amendment think?

Several groups that advocate for gun control laws and for reducing violence have formed the Iowans for Responsible Gun Laws Coalition in opposition to the proposed constitutional amendment.

Connie Ryan, a co-leader of the coalition, said the group is gravely concerned about the amendment.

“We’re focused on laws that should be in place to keep the public as safe as possible and to decrease gun violence,” Ryan said. “And the constitutional amendment would put those laws, either current or future, in harm’s way.”

In Linn County, law enforcement are urging Iowans to vote ‘no’ on the amendment.

Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks says he’s not against the second amendment, but is against amending the Iowa Constitution in a way that could make it harder for lawmakers to pass gun control laws in the future.

“This amendment is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. This amendment is not about freedom. It’s about more senseless violence. This amendment is not about embracing any rights. It’s about seizing power from future generations.”

Esha Bolar, co-executive state director of March for Our Lives Iowa, said gun violence is hitting closer to home with shootings in the past year outside of East High School and at a prom after-party in Des Moines, and outside of a church near Iowa State University.

“For us youth, this issue is becoming a lot closer than something as far as Parkland or Sandy Hook was,” she said. “So now is the time for the Iowa Legislature to be doing something preventative about gun violence, when instead, we’re going the complete opposite direction.”

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