DES MOINES, Iowa — A Senate panel approved a proposed gun rights amendment to the Iowa Constitution Monday, marking a step forward for the legislation after a missed deadline set the proposal back to square one.
The bill would add "the right to keep and bear arms" language to the state constitution. The measure got approval from the GOP-controlled legislature last year, keeping it on track for voter referendum on the 2020 ballot. Constitutional amendments require approval from two separate General Assemblies before moving to the ballot.
But lawmakers back to the drawing board this year, after the Secretary of State failed to publish notification of the amendment in Iowa newspapers---a key requirement in process of amending the Constitution, which takes years.
Now the soonest any proposal would get to the Iowa ballot is 2022. Opponents argued before a Senate panel hearing Monday that this shouldn't be merely a delay for the law. Instead, they say, lawmakers should scrap the idea entirely.
"With all do respect senator just because it passed in a previous year and just because the Secretary of State made a mistake, it is not reason to pass it again," said Connie Ryan of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa.
Supporters of the measure say the proposal is necessary to protect "fundamental rights" of Iowans and they are ready to move forward, despite the setback.
“'The right to keep and bear arms' arises directly from the universally acknowledged right to self defense," said Richard Rogers with the Iowa Firearms Coalition, who said ahead of the legislative session that proposal was their top priority.
Supporters point out that Iowa is one of six states that doesn't have “right to bear arms” language in its constitution.
But part of the proposal at the center of the debate goes a step further, requiring the courts use strict scrutiny when weighing gun-related issues. Louisiana, Alabama and Missouri are the only states that have a similar provision in their constitution.
Strict scrutiny is the most stringent type of judicial review, and adding such language to Iowa's Constitution related to guns leaves opponents worried of the legal consequences.
"[The proposal] takes this to a dangerous and unfounded extreme by requiring judges to use this standard for any type of arms regulation, including all of Iowa's existing laws," said Hannah Shearer, staff attorney for the Giffords Law Center Prevent Gun Violence.
Right now, current law requires a background check and weapons training before acquiring a permit to carry a firearm in the state of Iowa, a measure Gov. Kim Reynolds recently called "good policy" amid separate talks of permit-less carry legislation at the statehouse.
Opponents testified Monday that laws on the books could be threatened by any strict scrutiny provision.