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Silent Right: The Iowa Constitution’s Need for a Right to Keep and Bear Arms Amendment

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By Barry B. Snell

Fellow Iowans, there is a legitimate, pernicious threat to your right to self-defense and firearms ownership this very moment.

No, it’s not Obama.  Nope, not the U.N.  It’s not any anti-gun organization either.  Stumped?  Well believe it or not, the danger comes from our very own Iowa Constitution.  When the Iowa Constitution in current use was written in 1857, Iowa’s framers neglected to include one thing very important to most Americans: a provision protecting the citizen’s right to keep and bear arms.  In the 48 times the Iowa Constitution has been amended since, neither has anyone bothered to remedy this, making Iowa one of only six states in the union that lacks any kind of constitutional protection of the right to self-defense and firearms ownership.

Why did Iowa’s constitutional framers leave it out?  That’s a good question that nobody seems able to find a definitive answer to (the notes from the Iowa constitutional convention can be found here and here).  The most popular theory is that like the Federalists during the national constitutional debate in 1787, Iowa’s framers believed any language regarding the natural right to keep and bear arms was superfluous; a mere matter of common sense.  Why waste ink stating the obvious?

What Iowa’s founding fathers didn’t anticipate to the degree perhaps they should have, like many of our country’s founders, is that common sense would someday stop being so common.  They didn’t wholly appreciate that a statist, anti-liberty ideology would eventually begin to supplant traditional American virtues either.  Fortunately for every American though, even the ones who want to “fundamentally change” America, the Anti-Federalists were suspicious enough of government to demand a Bill of Rights in 1789—a document which has precariously stemmed the inevitable tide of tyrannical tendencies of government, and has stood in the gap against would-be masters for over two centuries.

When it comes to the Bill of Rights, you might be sitting there thinking, “yeah well, even if Iowa’s constitution doesn’t have a Second Amendment type provision, we’ve still got the actual Second Amendment so we’re still okay.”  And those of you more aware of gun issues might even be thinking “the Supreme Court affirmed the Second Amendment as an individual right in Heller v. District of Columbia, then incorporated the Second Amendment to the states in McDonald v. City of Chicago”.

The “problem”, so to speak, is quite basic and foundational: The United States is a constitutional federal republic.  As we all know, because of federalism the many states are allowed to make most of their own laws, independent of the national government.  In fact, until it was incorporated by McDonald, the Second Amendment didn’t legally apply to the states as the Bill of Rights was originally, as amendments to the U.S. Constitution, a set of laws restricting only the federal government.  By original design the states were, again legally speaking, free to enact their own gun laws…And many of them did, for better and worse.

Despite the victories the Heller and McDonald decisions represent though, in both affirming the Second Amendment as an individual right and applying that obvious standard to the states, those decisions keep open the possibility of “reasonable restrictions”, a cute little term frequently abused by anti-gunners to great effect.  The devil is in that little word: reasonable.  The anti-gun forces think “reasonable” means “restrict the hell out of everything,” or for some, “ban everything”.  In their collectivist minds, that’s what’s reasonable.

Examples of “’reasonable’ abuse” are legion.  Take the recent decision in the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, upholding California’s whopping ten day waiting period, even for citizens who have previously purchased firearms.  That decision was unanimous and based on what the court deemed “a reasonable safety precaution.”  Did you see it there?  “Reasonable” rearing its ugly head, as if it’s reasonable to believe someone bent on committing a felony is going to wait 10 days, or that people who have proven time and again that they are law abiding should have to wait two weeks to possess legal, constitutionally protected private property.

At the state level—again, federalism—there is the recent ruling by the Supreme Court of Nebraska which absurdly stated that non-carry permit holders transporting firearms in their vehicle must transport them in a location inaccessible at any time by the driver, even when stopped.   This too is billed as “reasonable,” but read that again: Gun owning Huskers without a carry permit may not, in effect, transport firearms in their vehicles any longer.  I am dubious that ridiculous outcome was the full intent of the court, but regardless this is what happens when the government and courts are not narrowly constrained at every opportunity, and in plain language.

And all this silliness is after Heller and McDonald supposedly protected our Second Amendment rights.

Since your rights to self-defense and firearms ownership aren’t also protected in Iowa’s constitution then, just what is stopping the Iowa Legislature from repealing any of the gun legislation we’ve passed in the last few years?   What is stopping the Iowa Supreme Court from ruling, in a single court decision, that since the right to keep and bear arms isn’t protected in Iowa, that whatever state gun rights issue is being adjudicated is suddenly null and void?  Let that sink in: You are just one bill or court decision away from having your “Second Amendment rights” infringed upon or completely abrogated in Iowa.

Fortunately, the Iowa Firearms Coalition is going to make history and fix that once and for all.

This coming 2017 legislative session, IFC is going to pursue an aggressive common sense, pro-freedom, pro-gun agenda—an agenda that Iowans put pro-gun Republicans back in the majority statewide to pursue.  With the help and support of the liberty loving leadership and members of the Iowa House and the Senate, the Iowa Firearms Coalition will put forth an historic constitutional amendment to add strong protections of the right to keep and bear arms into the Iowa Constitution.  The proper role of government is to protect the rights of citizens after all.

We’re certainly more poised for success on this issue than we have been in some years, but we’ve actually been down this road before.  In 2012, IFC, the NRA, and House Republicans led by stalwart ally Rep. Matt Windschitl (R-HD17) managed to pass the amendment through the House, even after the Democrat caucus actually walked out in an act of protest, breathlessly citing that it was just too extreme to amend the Iowa Constitution to enshrine a natural right already guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.  Then-House Democrat leader Kevin McCarthy stated that, “…[House Republicans] are going to attempt to alter the Iowa Constitution with extreme gun language that, if enacted, would turn Iowa into the Wild, Wild West.”

The histrionic “Wild West” fantasy is a common refrain heard from anti-gunners when confronted with legislation that respects the rights of Americans.  This dramatic delusion of theirs has never once come to pass anywhere it has been prophesized, nor will it come true when they revive that nonsense in the coming months.  In fact, the only places even remotely resembling this bloody chimera in their minds are the places where the anti-gunners have managed to enact their Utopian gun control schemes.  But fair warning: You’d better stock up on aspirin to combat the headaches caused by all the eye rolling you’re going to do, because you’re about to hear a lot of this kind of baloney.

But IFC will be there in the trenches, fighting for your rights as we’ve always done.

The time is now.  Pro-gun Republicans have been put back in the majority for a reason: Iowans are tired of the constant smugness, divisiveness, obstructionism and lack of progress of the last many years, especially, in the eyes of Iowa’s approximate two million gun owners, on gun issues.  These “deplorable” people, these “bitter clingers”—or “good and decent Americans” as I prefer call them—have spoken loud and clear and there will never be a better time to amend the Iowa Constitution to permanently enshrine within it the natural right to defend yourself and your family, and to possess and carry the best tools for the job.

If not now, when?  Will you help us?  Join IFC today to be part of history!  And Merry Christmas to all of you and your families!

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Barry Snell is the executive director of the Iowa Firearms Coalition, Iowa’s most effective Second Amendment advocacy group.  He is a graduate of Iowa State University and holds a degree in Political Science and History.  His political interests include Second Amendment policy, crime, education, and mass media.  Barry has been involved in politics going back to the 1990s, starting first with presidential campaigns, but now works exclusively in Iowa elections.  He may be contacted at bbsnell@iowafc.org.