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The Big Story: Digging into the ‘Omnibus Gun Bill’

Second AmendmentBy Bob Eschliman
Editor

 

The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution states Americans’ “right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” But, in Iowa, you still have to obtain a permit before you can do so, in most cases, which has been a sticking point for gun advocates for years.

After hailing Monday the decision by state Sen. Steve Sodders (D-State Center), an ardent gun-control proponent, to advance Senate Study Bill 1251 in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which he chairs, some are backtracking a little. The bill, which has been dubbed the “Omnibus Gun Bill” due to its all-encompassing nature, is not the original version that lobbyists for the Iowa Firearms Coalition and the National Rifle Association say they spent months working to craft.

Their bill, House Study Bill 201, was reportedly drafted by state Rep. Matt Windschitl (R-Missouri Valley). It has been offered by the House Judiciary Committee chaired by state Rep. Chip Baltimore (R-Boone).

“IFC and NRA have worked extensively on these bills that were recently introduced,” IFC board member Jeff Burkett said. “They carry components from various bills that we’ve worked on passing in the past and we also worked in conjunction with law enforcement lobbying groups in Iowa to put together what we feel are very good bills.”

He said he hadn’t been involved in day-to-day work on the proposed legislation, but said the organization is “mostly happy with the House version.”

The following is an in-depth analysis of the bills.

 

Suppressor Ban

Currently, any device constructed and designed to suppress, muffle, or silence the sound when a gun is fired is deemed an “offensive weapon” in and of itself, according to Iowa Code. Possession of an “offensive weapon” is a Class D felony in Iowa.

A Class D felony is punishable by up to five years in prison, and a fine of at least $750, but not more than $7,500.

SSB 1251 would strike the provisions that designate a suppressor as an “offensive weapon.” However, it also creates new provisions that could require a permitting process to create or transfer the ownership of a suppressor via the “chief law enforcement officer of the jurisdiction where the person resides or maintains an address of record.”

Under the bill, the “chief law enforcement officer” cannot refuse to provide a permit based on any generalized objection. But it does not prevent a refusal under specific objections, which must be returned to the applicant in writing, and any appeals must be made to the District Court.

The proposed legislation’s explanatory statement says: “In making a determination about whether to issue a certification under the bill, a chief law enforcement officer may conduct a criminal background check, but shall only require the applicant to provide as much information as is necessary to identify the applicant for this purpose or to determine the disposition of an arrest or proceeding relevant to the eligibility of the applicant to lawfully make or transfer a firearm suppressor.”

State Sen. Mark Chelgren (R-Ottumwa) has sponsored a bill that singles out the suppressor law. Senate File 363 would strike the provision of Iowa Code that classifies a suppressor as an offensive weapon, without requiring the permitting process.

 

Carrying Weapons

SSB 1251 would require a concealed carry permit to be on a person at all times when he or she is carrying a weapon, or be found guilty of a misdemeanor. The bill also states the permit must be displayed to a peace officer “on demand,” and that the validity of the permit will be verified “through electronic means.”

A concealed carry permit is required for any person armed with a revolver, pistol, or pocket billy that is concealed on his or her body.

Currently, Iowa Code states a permit holder must merely possess a permit, not that it must be in his or her immediate possession. Under the bill, failure to have the permit in one’s immediate possession is punishable by a $10 scheduled fine.

The bill also allows certified peace officers who possess professional permits to carry weapons to be armed while on school grounds, whether they are on duty or not. Currently, only on-duty peace officers may be armed on school grounds, and a violation is a Class D felony.

HSB 201, however, only requires that a peace officer is able to verify via electronic means that the person possesses a permit, and that his or her activities conform to the limitations of the permit.

 

Permits for Foreign Nationals

The proposed legislation would require those who are not U.S. citizens to provide additional information, as well as be subject to an immigration alien query through a database maintained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as well as a standard criminal history background check, prior to the issuance of a concealed carry permit.

HSB 201 doesn’t contain this provision at all.

 

Required Training

SSB 1251 would extend the length of time between training certification and application for a permit from 12 months to 24 months. It also provides that, beginning with the first renewal of a permit to carry weapons issued after the calendar year 2010, and alternating renewals thereafter, training is not required unless the renewal applicant does not apply within 30 days prior to the expiration of the permit or within 30 days after the expiration of the permit.

The proposed legislation’s explanatory statement says: “If the renewal applicant does not apply within the renewal window, the renewal applicant shall be subject to the same training requirements as a person who initially applies for a permit to carry weapons under.”

Under the bill, beginning with the second renewal of a permit to carry weapons issued after the calendar year 2010, and alternating renewals thereafter, a renewal applicant is required to complete training and shall qualify under either of the following:

  • the training requirements specified in Code section 724.9(1),
  • or on a firing range under the supervision of an instructor certified by the National Rifle Association, the Iowa Department of Public Safety, or another state’s Department of Public Safety, state police department, or similar certifying body.

Evidence of training must include a photocopy of a certificate of completion or any similar document indicating completion of any course or class identified in Iowa Code that was completed within 24 months prior to the date of the application, possession of an honorable discharge or general discharge under honorable conditions issued any time prior to the date of the application, possession of a certificate of completion of basic training with a service record of successful completion of small-arms training and qualification issued prior to the date of the application, or a qualification certificate, qualification card, or affidavit from an instructor certified by the NRA or public safety entities attesting that the applicant has qualified on a firing range within 24 months prior to the date of the application.

HSB 201 only changes existing Iowa Code requirements by extending the current 12-month time frame between training and application for a concealed carry permit to 24 months. It does not require firing range training or certification to apply for a permit.

 

Prohibited Transfers

Both bills would strike current Iowa Code language that relates to transferring a pistol or revolver to a person without a permit or acquiring a pistol or revolver without a permit. It replaces it with language prohibiting the transfer, loaning, or renting of a firearm to another person who does not possess a permit if the person knows or reasonably should know the person is prohibited from receiving or possessing a firearm under Iowa Code or federal law.

 

Permits to Acquire

Under current law, any person who intends to purchase a pistol or revolver is required to first obtain an annual permit to acquire pistols or revolvers unless the person is otherwise exempt. Both bills eliminate the mandatory permit and provides for an “optional” permit to allow for the acquisition of firearms from a federally licensed firearms dealer.

Its explanatory statement says: “A person is not required to obtain a permit to acquire firearms to purchase firearms from a federally licensed firearms dealer if the person possesses a valid permit to carry weapons issued in accordance with Iowa law or if the person has otherwise completed a satisfactory national instant criminal background check required by federal law to purchase firearms from a federally licensed firearms dealer.”

The bill provides that an application for a permit to acquire firearms is made to the county sheriff of the applicant’s residence. The application process specified in the bill is similar to that for a concealed carry permit, and permits are valid immediately upon issuance – currently, there is a three-day waiting period – for a period of five years, instead of one year.

 

Youth Possession

SSB1251 would allow a parent, guardian, or spouse who is 21 years old or older, or an instructor who is at least 21 years old, to provide a minor of any age to possess a pistol or revolver or the ammunition therefor, which then may be lawfully used. Currently, this is prohibited for youth younger than 14 years of age, which has led to problems at gun ranges throughout the state.

Except for the circumstances under Iowa Code, including those related to security personnel, anyone not specified by the bill who sells, loans, gives, or makes available a pistol or revolver, or ammunition for a pistol or revolver, to a person younger than 21 commits a serious misdemeanor on first offense, and a Class D felony for subsequent offenses.

This provision, however, does not apply to “semiautomatic” rifles, which may continue to cause issues for some gun owners.

 

Confidential Records

A provision of both pieces of legislation that has attracted the ire of liberals in Iowa is that which requires the Commissioner of Public Safety and any issuing officer (county sheriff) to keep confidential any personally identifiable information of permit holders.

“The release of any confidential information, except as otherwise provided in the bill, requires a court order or the consent of the person whose personally identifiable information is the subject of the information request,” the bills’ explanatory statement says. “The bill does not prohibit release of statistical information relating to the issuance, denial, revocation, or administration of nonprofessional permits to carry weapons and permits to acquire firearms if such information does not reveal the identity of any individual permit holder, the release of information to a law enforcement agency investigating a violation of law or where probable cause exists, the release for purposes of conducting a background check, or the release of information relating to the validity of a professional permit to carry weapons to an employer who requires an employee or an agent of the employer to possess a professional permit to carry weapons as part of the duties of the employee or agent.”

 

Lobbyist Positions

Currently, the Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church and the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa are both opposed to SSB 1251. In addition to those two, the Iowa Broadcasters Association and the Iowa Newspaper Association are also opposed to HSB 201.

Although they have not yet taken a position on SSB 1251, the following groups –in addition to the IFC and NRA – support HSB 201: the Iowa Peace Officers Association, the Iowa State Sheriffs’ and Deputies’ Association, ABATE of Iowa, the Iowa State Police Association, and the National Shooting Sports Foundation. The Iowa Department of Public Safety is “undecided” on the bill.

Iowa Gun Owners has not yet responded to a request for comment on the bill, but one the organization’s biggest proponents in the Iowa Senate, state Sen. Rick Bertrand (R-Sioux City) said he was glad to see Sodders moving the bill out of subcommittee.

In a press release Monday evening, he said, “I am pleased Senator Sodders has finally listened to the voice of gun owners from across, not only his district but, the state of Iowa, and has agreed to pass a pro-gun framework through his committee.” The press release noted Sodders had been “unwilling to advance any pro-gun legislation” until gun owners were mobilized by “organizations using statewide radio, direct mail, and even house-to-house literature drops in Sodders’ district” – a tip of the hat to IGO.

“I am looking forward to the process,” he said in the press release. “It has been more than five years since the gun code has been opened up on the Senate floor and Iowans want to know where their legislators stand on a host of pro-gun issues, including Stand-Your-Ground legislation, Constitutional Carry legislation, and more. The amendment process should give us an ability to allow Iowa gun owners to determine who supports their right and who is just running for political cover.”

Bertrand also applauded state Windschitl for “creating a bill that will facilitate an opportunity for gun debate in the Iowa Senate.” He said Iowans have spoken, and said they support the Second Amendment, as well as stand-your-ground legislation – a major issue for IGO this session – which is not a component of the omnibus bill.

Asked today about the discrepancies in the House and Senate bills, Iowa Senate Caucus spokesman – speaking on Bertrand’s behalf – said: “I am very excited we will see a comprehensive gun bill make it to the Senate floor. From what I have seen I support HSB 201.”