Sheriffs announce support for Iowa gun rights referendum

Sheriffs announce support for Iowa gun rights referendum
(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

A voter referendum that would enshrine the right to keep and bear arms into the Iowa state constitution appears to be in good shape, with a new poll released this week showing 58% of surveyed voters in favor of the measure. While gun control activists and many local media outlets have been lobbying against the constitutional amendment, their fearmongering about increased crime and unsafe streets if the measure is approved is falling flat with voters, and the fact that a half-dozen sheriffs have now come out in support of the ballot measure certainly doesn’t help their argument.

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“The right to keep and bear arms is a fundamental and God-given right and it’s passed time that Iowans have the same state-level civil rights protections as Americans living in the rest of the country,” Cedar County Sheriff Warren Wethington said.

They point out Iowa is only one of six states that do not have ‘the right to bear arms’ in the state constitution. Minnesota, Maryland, California, New York, and New Jersey are the other states without the language.

If passed though, Iowa would become only the fourth state to add ‘strict scrutiny’ language to the right to bear arms. That is what opponents, including Linn County Sheriff Brian Gardner and Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks fear.

In a release sent out Thursday, Sheriff Wethington took a shot at Sheriff Gardner without naming him. He said he believes the ‘vast majority’ of those who wear a badge support the amendment “despite the widely publicized condemnation of the Freedom Amendment by one eastern Iowa Sheriff, who is also a well-known activist within the Democratic party and partner of far-left out-of-state organizations in his crusade against Iowans’ constitutional rights.”

Gardner responded to Iowa’s News Now with the following statement:

“If me speaking the truth about the negative consequences of adding Public Measure #1 to the Iowa Constitution makes other people nervous, then so be it. The “strict scrutiny” language would have negative consequences on all current and future common sense gun laws. This is confirmed by legal experts. Anyone who actually reads the wording of the proposed gun amendment and understands these confirmed negative consequences recognizes the need to vote “No” on this ballot issue because it greatly endangers, not enhances, public safety.”

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Linn County is a speck of blue amidst Iowa’s mostly ruby-red counties, so I’m not too surprised to see its elected sheriff oppose the constitutional amendment. His objection to the “strict scrutiny” provision in the proposed amendment is telling, especially with his use of the phrase “common sense gun laws.” Gardner’s a gun control fan, and if treating the right to keep and bear arms as a fundamental right would deprive him of the ability to enforce new restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms, of course he’s going to be opposed.

“Strict scrutiny” simply means that, in order for any given gun control law to be upheld by the Iowa courts, the government would have to show that they have a compelling interest in the subject and that the law in question was narrowly tailored to advance those interests with minimal intrusion on the rights of the law-abiding. That likely would take many gun control initiatives like gun and magazine bans off the table, because those are laws generally aimed at otherwise legal gun owners and don’t specifically target the perpetrators of violent crime.

Unless Sheriff Gardner believes the Second Amendment is a second-class right, there’s no real reason for him to object to Iowa’s gun laws being viewed through a strict scrutiny lens. It’s good to see sheriffs like Wethington and his colleagues (Van Buren County Sheriff Dan Tredrow, Muscatine County Sheriff Quinn Riess, Wayne County Sheriff Keith Davis, Washington County Sheriff Jared Schneider, and Iowa County Sheriff Robert Rotter) pushing back on Gardner’s claims about the proposed constitutional amendment, and I suspect that the Linn County sheriff isn’t going to be happy when the votes are tallied. Iowa is a pro-Second Amendment, constitutional carry state, and my guess is that voters are going to ensure their state constitution reflects that come Election Day.

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