What Iowa's gun rights amendment might mean going forward

AP Photo/Wilson Ring

The state of Iowa is one of those places you kind of expect to be pro-gun. After all, it’s a pretty rural state and rural states tend to support the Second Amendment.

And, in many ways, it is pro-gun. It really is.

However, a new constitutional amendment in the state hopes to step that up a notch or two. Yet what will change following the vote on it?

Iowa voters in November will be asked to add language to the Iowa Constitution that states it is a “fundamental individual right” to keep and bear arms, and that any restraint on that right is invalid unless it meets the demands of “strict scrutiny.”

A new coalition of gun safety advocates said the pro-gun amendment would prohibit safety measures that Iowans support, such as firearm safety training, universal background checks and a requirement for a license to carry a gun in public.

Republicans have argued for the measure for years, saying Iowa is one of only six states without protections in its constitution for the right to keep and bear arms.

Democrats and gun-safety advocates say Republicans are misleading Iowans when they say the amendment is equivalent to the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The “strict scrutiny” language, they say, could lead to courts overturning gun restrictions already on the books.

“Inserting gun rights with strict scrutiny into the (Iowa) Constitution would tip the balance of power, elevating access to guns above public health and safety,” said Connie Ryan, executive director of Des Moines-based Interfaith Alliance of Iowa and a member of the Iowans for Responsible Gun Laws coalition. “This is unacceptable and, quite frankly, it is dangerous.”

Except owning guns is a constitutionally protected right, while “public health and safety” is something that the government may wish to provide, but cannot and should not try to do so at the expense of personal liberty.

Yet there’s an interesting twist on this, namely the use of “strict scrutiny” for determining the constitutionality of gun laws.

You see, for a while, that was kind of what most of us preferred. That was based on the prospect of it either being that or “intermediate scrutiny” which tended to favor government control over guns versus our right to keep and bear arms.

However, the idea of a two-tier scrutiny for gun rights died with the Bruen decision, where Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that neither was appropriate for the right to keep and bear arms. Strict scrutiny would mean the government has to show a compelling government interest in restricting the right, but Thomas wrote that, instead, a “text and history” approach should be applied, something that’s even more of a hurdle than strict scrutiny.

Since this is an individual right that has been incorporated at the state level–the heart of the McDonald decision–there’s actually no need for this particular amendment.

Some are concerned that the legislature is trying to dictate to the judiciary, which I get, but when and if the judiciary isn’t respectful of the rights of the people, the people–through the legislature–are obligated to respond. A constitutional amendment is the correct and proper means for that.

However, it sounds like regardless of what happens with this amendment, Iowa and its people’s gun rights will be just fine.

Thankfully.