House bill creates ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ license plates to fund the NRA

Gun Rights

Iowans could buy custom yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” license plates under a bill that passed the Iowa House Wednesday.

The Iowa House voted 60-34 to pass House File 2639, which allows the Iowa Department of Transportation to issue custom Iowa license plates with the “Gadsden Flag,” which was designed during the Revolutionary War in 1775 by Christopher Gadsden and was used by the Continental Marines.

The yellow flag depicts a coiled timber rattlesnake above the phrase “Don’t Tread on Me.”

The flag and its slogan are associated with individual liberty, limited government and gun rights. In recent years it has been a mainstay at conservative rallies and protests.

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“I do want to just express my appreciation for giving the Gadsden Flag the respect it deserves as a symbol which memorializes our American history and the fight that we had to fight to get our liberty,” said the bill’s floor manager, Rep. Jeff Shipley, R-Birmingham.

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The license plates would cost $50, and drivers would pay another annual $50 fee in addition to their normal annual registration fees. If a driver wants a personalized license plate, they would also pay an additional $25 fee and $5 more each year.

License plate fees would go to the NRA to educate about ‘the right to keep and bear arms’

The money from the fees would go to the Department of Public Safety, which would distribute it as grants to nonprofits to provide training on “the right to keep and bear arms.” The department would have to give first preference for the grants to the National Rifle Association “and similar nonprofit organizations.”

Democrats proposed a number of amendments that would instead send the money raised to other organizations and causes, including LGBTQ advocacy groups, the NAACP, funds to buy school supplies for public school classrooms, Area Education Agency support services, lung cancer awareness, mental health services, organized labor, and to pay down school lunch debt for low-income families.

House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, said Democrats offered the amendments to highlight priorities that aren’t being considered by Republicans.

“There are issues this state is facing, and we are spending time on a new license plate to fund the NRA,” she said. “This is not what we were sent here to do. This is not what we should be prioritizing.”

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Rep. Brian Meyer, D-Des Moines, said Republicans in the Iowa Legislature have supported taking away Iowans’ freedoms, including abortion, LGBTQ and workers’ rights.

“The fact that the majority in this Legislature, the Republican majority, is eager to memorialize this symbol on a license plate is beyond ironic, in my opinion,” Meyer said. “This Republican legislature has consistently attacked civil rights, civil liberties and the personal freedoms that are the bedrock of the American spirit.”

Shipley said the license plate would be “another great addition to the rich fabric of our state.”

“I think it’s very fair to say that across the history of human civilization, I can’t think of anywhere in the world where individual rights, individual sovereignty has been more cherished and respected than here in the great state of Iowa,” he said.

The bill now goes to the Iowa Senate, where a similar bill was introduced last year but did not advance.

Stephen Gruber-Miller covers the Iowa Statehouse and politics for the Register. He can be reached by email at or by phone at 515-284-8169. Follow him on Twitter at @sgrubermiller.

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