Press Release

Giffords Reacts to the Iowa House Passing a Constitutional Amendment that Will Threaten State Gun Safety Laws

Passage of constitutional amendment HJR 13/SJR 18 puts Iowa’s current gun laws at risk by moving a “strict scrutiny” standard for any gun safety law one step closer to reality

Polling shows the majority of Iowans support stronger gun laws, not attempts to weaken gun safety measures

March 13, 2019 — Giffords, the gun violence prevention group led by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, released the following statement in reaction to the Iowa house passage of a constitutional amendment that weakens gun laws by applying a “strict scrutiny” standard to state gun safety laws.

Statement from Nico Bocour, state legislative director at Giffords:

“In a reckless attempt to appease the corporate gun lobby, Iowa politicians ignored the safety of their constituents. This constitutional amendment is dangerous. A strict scrutiny standard is a Wild West approach to gun policy—making it easier for firearms to fall into the hands of convicted felons and domestic abusers. Amidst a growing gun violence crisis, we need lifesaving solutions, not radical constitutional changes that leave communities more vulnerable to shootings. Giffords strongly condemns today’s vote, and we will continue to fight for the safety of all Iowans by working to defeat this misguided change to Iowa’s Constitution.”

The proposal adds Second Amendment language to the Iowa Constitution, and pairs it with a mandate that forces judges to apply a legal standard called “strict scrutiny” to “any and all restrictions” of the right to keep and bear arms. Strict scrutiny is the most demanding standard applied in constitutional cases: It requires judges to assume a challenged policy is unconstitutional until the state proves otherwise. The amendment would force judges to review “any and all” gun safety laws and regulations, without exception, under the strict scrutiny standard.

A recent poll of likely Iowa voters by Giffords found 86 percent support for requiring a background check on all gun buyers. Support for background checks crosses party lines, with 83 percent of Republicans and 89 percent of Democrats in favor. It also unites all communities, with 83 percent of rural voters supportive of background checks. The poll of 939 voters was conducted January 30–31, and has a margin of error of 3.18 percent.

An amendment to the Constitution must be approved by two consecutive general assemblies before going to Iowa voters to consider. The measure passed the state legislature last year, but stalled after a procedural error by Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate.

Dangers of the Proposed Constitutional Changes

Some supporters say the constitutional amendment simply protects Second Amendment rights in Iowa. But this ignores the dangerous strict scrutiny provision, which only three states (Louisiana, Missouri, and Alabama) have ever adopted. These states are outliers that have taken the most radical steps to deregulate guns, and their gun death rates are much higher than Iowa’s. If the experiences of these other states holds true, the amendment would endanger all of Iowa’s gun laws and lead to frivolous litigation that burdens the justice system at taxpayers’ expense.

  • The amendment would make it much easier to challenge Iowa’s gun laws in court. The amendment requires courts to apply “strict scrutiny” to all permissible restrictions on individuals’ right to possess and carry firearms, including background check laws and restrictions on guns in schools. This is a dangerous and radical policy that would constrain the discretion of Iowa’s legislature to regulate guns and force state judges to apply a legal standard under which laws are more frequently struck down.
  • The proposed constitutional amendment will drive frivolous litigation. Strict scrutiny gives every criminal offender who violates Iowa’s gun laws a new tool to challenge their convictions under the state Constitution. As a result, the amendment will encourage much more litigation over Iowa’s laws, even lifesaving gun regulations that are clearly constitutional, such as restrictions on gun possession by felons and domestic abusers.
  • The proposed constitutional amendment is dangerously vague and overbroad. Because it doesn’t define “arms,” it could make it impossible to restrict extremely dangerous weapons like bump stocks and machine guns. And the strict scrutiny mandate broadly applies to any and all firearm “restrictions,” which means the proposal would not only endanger gun safety laws, but also a wide range of other policies, like state agency and school board rules, and actions taken by prosecutors and police if challenged in court.

Related Resources:

  • Memo: Iowa Legislators Not Listening on Gun Issues
  • Blog: Iowa at a Crossroads
  • News Clip: Gun violence prevention campaign targets Iowa | Cedar Rapids Gazette