Iowa Republicans continue push to loosen gun restrictions

As the legislative session approaches the middle of the season, gun rights protections continue to stall. After adding an amendment to the Iowa Constitution to strengthen gun rights, the Iowa GOP still has its aim on strengthening gun rights.


Matt Sindt

A gun owner fires a gun at the Hawkeye Wildlife Shooting Range in Amana, Iowa on March 20, 2023.

Emily Delgado, Politics Reporter

Legislation that would strengthen gun rights in Iowa was introduced during this year’s legislative session, but relaxing gun restrictions isn’t anything new for the state.

One of the current active bills during this year’s legislative session is Senate File 543 which was introduced in the Iowa Senate. SF 543 would allow the possession of firearms in vehicles parked at schools, jails, and higher education institutions.

Steffen Schmidt, a political science professor at Iowa State University, wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan that bills like SF 543 are an example of gun laws in the state that are becoming less restrictive.

House File 147, a bill that was killed during funnel week, would have created the Second Amendment Preservation Act that would reaffirm the state’s rights to decide gun laws within its borders.

Elinor Levin, D-Iowa City, said the bill created a conflict of interest over who should carry firearms.

“Legislation like this artificially creates a conflict between the idea that someone is a peaceful, law-abiding citizen is able to own a gun and the idea that there could still be restrictions to protect those of us who are around people who may not be safe to own weaponry or there may not be certain weaponry that is safe for all to own,” Levin said.

Gun restrictions loosen in Iowa

In recent years, legislation spearheaded by the GOP have eased gun restrictions in Iowa.

“Now there are very few restrictions to owning and possessing firearms and even keeping a gun in your vehicle in a school parking lot, as long as it’s hidden from sight, or another sensitive location is now allowed,” Schmidt said.

During the November 2022 midterm election, Iowans voted to add “strict scrutiny language” — or the “right to bear arms” — that protected the Second Amendment in the state constitution. Strict scrutiny is the highest level of scrutiny that legislation needs to pass.

The addition of the language received 65 percent of the votes, while 35 percent of Iowans voted against the language.

“That vote did demonstrate very broad support for the right to keep and bear arms in Iowa,” Levin said about the November amendment to the Iowa Constitution.

The phrase, “the right to keep and bear arms” is a new political idea, Schmidt said.

“It’s not controversial in general, but those opposed to more relaxed gun laws and more gun rights see it as another obstacle to any state gun control laws,” Schmidt said.

During the 2021 Iowa legislative session, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a law that removed the requirement for a permit to attain, purchase, or carry a gun in a public place. A Des Moines Register Iowa poll found that around two-thirds of Iowans opposed the new law signed by Reynolds.

Now that Iowa doesn’t require a background check or the purchase of a permit to carry a concealed weapon, the state ranks No. 31 in terms of gun control law strength, according to a ranking by Everytown for Gun Safety, a non-profit advocacy group that advocates for better gun control laws.

A 2020 poll by Giffords and Public Policy Polling revealed that 79 percent of Iowa voters support background checks being required to purchase a firearm.

Compared to other Republican states, Iowa is ranked low for gun control law strength. Florida is No. 19 and Texas is ranked under Iowa at No. 32.

Republicans and Democrats have different interpretations of Second Amendment

Schmidt said the Second Amendment has been broadly interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court to side with gun rights activists, often expanding rights. However, the federal government has successfully passed restrictions on certain firearms.

In 2022, the U.S. Congress passed a gun control bill that implemented stricter background checks for young buyers and promoted states to take guns away from potentially dangerous people.

“Conservatives especially believe that gun ownership is a fundamental, almost sacred, right in the United States,” Schmidt said. “In part to defend oneself and also, in case it’s needed, to defend against an oppressive government, and the gun industry has also been lobbying very successfully to reduce restrictions.”

As laws related to the Second Amendment are being introduced around the country, so has more debate about the need for such laws.

Indiana introduced nearly a dozen laws expanding gun rights, according to the Indianapolis Star. Lawmakers have introduced laws allowing retired police officers to bring guns onto school grounds, providing tax credits for buying gun safes, and providing penalties for improperly storing firearms.

“Second Amendment is necessary to protect us from anyone getting you to know, using guns against us, or using weapons against us or infringing on our, you know, seeking to harm us physically,” said Brad Cranston, a pastor and lobbyist for Iowa Baptists for Biblical Values.

Rep. Adam Zabner, D-Iowa City, said legislators who are opposed to these bills do not want to infringe on the Second Amendment. Zabner was a vocal opponent of the 2022 midterm vote on the Second Amendment because he was not a fan of the language used to write the amendment.

“What we are saying is that we have to make sure that folks who buy guns are in the right mindset to make that purchase, have had a background check,” Zabner said.

Zabner said legislation that will create safety laws and guidelines for owning a gun could save lives.

“I think there is a compromise to be found … we should be able to find common ground here,” Zabner said.

While gun-related bills have been introduced in the legislature, legislators are reminded of the 2022 Des Moines High School shooting that killed a 15-year-old student and injured two other students.

Zabner said it should not be the responsibility of children to worry about protection against firearms while on school property.

“It is absolutely my firmly held belief that adults are responsible for protecting children, and that first starts with protecting them in the case of guns, that first starts with protecting children from being surrounded by guns in situations when they should be safe,” Zabner said. “That means addressing the systemic issues that lead to guns being available so readily.”

As Iowa and other states implement less restrictive gun laws, gun violence could grow as well, Schmidt said.

“The terrible school and workplace shootings and an epidemic of gun suicides especially among veterans are growing challenges to American democracy,” Schmidt said. “Unfortunately, there is no consensus on how to address this problem.”