Republicans Turn ‘Safety Off’ For Iowa Gun Policy

Two firearms laws passed the Iowa House of Representatives last night that could threaten the safety of Iowans by making it easier for bad actors to purchase guns, and by making it harder to hold gun manufacturers accountable in a court of law. 

One of those bills was the Firearms Omnibus (HF 756), which passed 60-37. The bill has five divisions to modify Iowa’s code regarding firearms possession, including one that establishes permit-less firearm carry.

Instead, buyers can get a permit to acquire, or they can submit to a background check each time they buy a firearm.

As part of the permit process, the applicant must undergo a background check and attend training for handling guns.

Republicans and Democrats talked around and around that issue for four hours.

Democrats’ position was that this bill kills background checks because of private sellers.

Federal law maintains that people must submit to a background check if they’re buying from a federally licensed seller. That still applies to Iowans who don’t pursue permits.

Though private sellers aren’t mentioned explicitly, Rep. Steven Holt maintains that incentives exist for private sellers to call for background checks.

The language in the bill specifies that a private seller must know, or reasonably know, whether a person is legally allowed to own a gun. If they sell to someone who can’t, the seller can be convicted of a felony.

Holt said he talked to a collector who said the felony risk was enough to sell firearms indirectly to be sure a background check takes place. All night, he maintained that risk was enough to deter people selling to people they don’t know.

Democrats said it only incentivizes willful ignorance on the part of the seller.

If a seller doesn’t know anything about their client, they aren’t liable for knowing whether the buyer shouldn’t have a gun and nothing in the bill requires they do a background check.

Rep. Mary Wolfe, a criminal defense attorney who handles cases regarding firearms permits, said it would be hard to obtain that felony conviction anyway.

“Absent evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that they did know…nobody will ever be able to be convicted of this crime,” she said. “It’s not the case that everyone who engages in a private gun sale, who sells guns, is going to insist on having a federal background check.”

House Democrats tried to fix that problem with an amendment that made background checks mandatory, regardless.

Rep. Mary Mascher said it was just a way of fixing a loophole by assuring that a background check gets done.

Wolfe said one of the consolations of the permit process is the training requirement that comes with it.

“I feel safer, and I think Iowa’s safer knowing that right now every single person that’s carrying a firearm, if they’re doing it legally, had to take that same relatively brief–but still better than nothing–course on when it’s legal, when it’s not legal to use your gun in self-defense,” she said.

The other divisions of the bill concern handgun safety training, allowing off-duty peace officers to carry on school grounds and handgun possession by a tenant using federal housing vouchers.

Inevitably, the debate returned several times to the idea that this bill was meant to protect Iowans’ second amendment rights. And several times, Democrats asserted that no Constitutional right is without restriction.

“The fact is, no Constitutional right is absolute, no Constitutional right is unlimited, no Constitutional right is a free-for-all,” said Rep. Christina Bohannan, a law professor at the University of Iowa. “By eliminating a reasonable permit requirement to carry guns, this bill treats gun rights more favorably than other fundamental rights like the first amendment right to free speech and the right to vote.”

Consistently, in both nation and state-wide polls, a majority of citizens supports that gun buyers pass background checks. Majorities of gun owners say the same.

In 2019, the legislature tried to pass this same kind of legislation. At the time, Gov. Kim Reynolds declined to voice support for it.

A bill passed earlier, HF 621, also by 60-37, and dealt with the types of action that can be brought against the sellers and manufacturers of firearms.

The bill would require that the action can only involve injury or damage from defects and  breach of contract or warranty.

People can’t bring legal action for injury or damage from someone using the firearm illegally, the way the firearm was advertised or its lawful design. 

Rep. Bruce Hunter said lawsuits against manufacturers have been one of the leading reasons for regulations that ultimately save lives. 

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