Over the past few weeks I’ve received several emails asking me to support House Joint Resolution 2009, which proposes “an amendment to the constitution of the State of Iowa relating to the right of the people to keep and bear arms.” The folks sending these emails are under the impression that all HJR2009 does is “add the Second Amendment to the Iowa Constitution” — that sounds good, and if it were true, I’d be on board (even though technically Iowans are already protected by the Second Amendment, but hey, nothing wrong with doubling down). But it definitely isn’t true — and since someone or some organization is apparently telling a lot of Iowans otherwise, I appreciate the opportunity to set the record straight.
Bottom line, the language of HJR2009 is not the language of the Second Amendment — it’s a lot broader in scope and in intent. Here’s the language of our federal Second Amendment:
A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
And here’s the language proposed in HJR 2009:
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.
And here’s the problem: HJR2009 doesn’t include about half of the language that is in the Second Amendment, and it does include a lot of language (two new sentences) that isn’t in the Second Amendment; thus, we can’t rely on the decades of case law and academic analysis surrounding the Second Amendment to help us predict the impact that ratification of HJR2009 would have on Iowa’s current and future gun laws, or the impact that ratification would have on Iowa in general.
We can speculate. For example, I’m reasonably sure Iowa’s law restricting felons from owning/carrying guns would hold up, and that Iowa’s law restricting anyone convicted of any misdemeanor domestic abuse-assault offense from owning/carrying a gun would not. I suspect that requiring a background check before a gun purchase would remain constitutionally viable under HJR2009, while requiring a permit to (legally) carry a gun in public would not.
But I can’t be sure of any of the above, and neither can anyone else, and that’s extremely problematic from a public policy standpoint. One thing I can be sure of: If HJR2009 is ultimately ratified, every gun related law, rule, and regulation currently in effect — no matter how objectively reasonable — will be subject to immediate challenge, as will any future gun-related legislation; this protracted litigation could cost Iowa taxpayers millions of dollars and could have a chilling effect on efforts to promote Iowa as a safe place to live, work, and raise a family.
Another concern: because HJR2009’s “right to keep and bear arms” would be the only right in the Iowa Constitution explicitly designated as “fundamental” and explicitly requiring a strict scrutiny review of “any and all” restrictions, it’s likely that whenever an Iowa court was confronted with a legal conflict between this new right and any of the “old” rights enumerated in our state or federal constitutions, there would be a rebuttable presumption that guns win. I don’t think it was necessarily the intent of Representative Windschitl (the sponsor of HJR2009) to draft his resolution in such a way as to make all other constitutional rights legally subordinate to his proposed right to keep and bear arms, but (in my opinion) that’s exactly what HJR2009 would do.
I’ve asked Representative Windschitl to amend HJR2009 so as to mirror the language of our Second Amendment — if he’s willing to do so, he’ll have my yes vote and the yes votes of many other House Democrats, and we can “put the Second Amendment in the Iowa Constitution” for real, and in a bipartisan manner. If the “for real” Second Amendment isn’t good enough for my colleagues in the House majority party, I’ll most likely have to be a no on HJR2009, at least in its present form.
But I work for you, so if you’d like to weigh in on HJR2009, or any other pending legislation, please consider attending the next Clinton County legislative forum on Saturday, March 3 at 9 a.m. at the Clinton Community College, and at 11 a.m. at the DeWitt Community Center. Hope to see you there!
Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, serves in the Iowa House of Representatives.