Opinion | ‘Strict Scrutiny’ ruins the Iowa gun bill

By including “strict scrutiny” language, lawmakers close the door on future policymaking and threaten current safeguards.


Ben Smith

Guns are displayed at Scheels in Coralville on Tuesday, April 11, 2017.

Evan Mantler, Opinions Contributor

A bill proposing an amendment to the Iowa Constitution has one major problem: strict scrutiny.

Senate Joint Resolution 7 — which passed the Legislature on Jan. 28 and is set to appear on ballots in 2022 — proposes adding the following language to the Iowa Constitution: “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The sovereign state of Iowa affirms and recognizes this right to be a fundamental individual right. Any and all restrictions of this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny.”

Strict scrutiny is a standard of legal review that courts may use when assessing challenges to legislation. It is the harshest level of judicial review and is often applied to cases involving discrimination, equal protection, or fundamental rights. To withstand strict scrutiny, a law must serve a “compelling governmental interest” and must be “narrowly tailored” to achieve that interest.

So what’s the problem? By requiring strict scrutiny, this amendment vastly limits the power of future Legislatures to pass reasonable checks on gun ownership.

Worse, it could open current laws to challenges, including common-sense policies like background checks and permit requirements. It would compel courts to apply the harshest level of review to challenges, even when this may be unnecessary and inappropriate, and may force them to strike down protections we desperately need.

Strict scrutiny aims to protect individual rights, but when it comes to gun control, we must also think about the safety of our citizens.

Iowa is currently one of only six states lacking constitutional protection for gun ownership. It seems reasonable for the Legislature to vote to change that, but this amendment would cause us to swing wildly in the other direction.

If passed, Iowa would join Alabama, Louisiana, and Missouri on the list of states with strict scrutiny requirements. The very wording of Missouri’s statute forecasts the repercussions  of such a mandate by including caveats that explicitly allow lawmakers to restrict gun ownership for violent felons and those who are mentally impaired.

Republican lawmakers are presenting this bill as a typical protection of gun rights, but it is not. A vast majority of states’ protections mirror the language of the U.S.’s 2nd Amendment.

Iowa Republicans are misrepresenting their intentions. They are attempting to weaken gun regulations that are popular among Iowans without doing so outright. Regardless of their stances on gun control, lawmakers should be confident enough to propose and support specific legislation that aligns with their policy goals. The strict scrutiny mandate passes the buck to courts and casts uncertainty on the future of the law.

Once passed, a constitutional amendment is difficult to undo. Iowans should think carefully about the long-term effects of this bill before they vote on it. This amendment would inhibit future legislatures passing almost any kind of gun-related reform and erode the vital safeguards we have now.

Iowa law should not be burdened by these two words.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.