Editorial Roundup: Iowa

Des Moines Register. September 25, 2022.

Editorial: Iowa gun amendment has no upside and hard-to-measure risks. Vote no.

If this passes, policymakers could find themselves unable to act meaningfully to keep their constituents safe.

Time to talk about the back of the ballot. The very last item on many two-sided sample ballots for the Nov. 8 general election in Iowa is uncommonly important. It rivals the front-side races for governor and Congress and so on for its influence on what kind of state Iowans will live in.

Iowans should vote “no” on a proposed constitutional amendment that would make it dangerously difficult to regulate firearms. Rejecting the amendment is a critical step toward preserving the possibility of changing gun laws to keep Iowans safer.

The measure is labeled “right to keep and bear arms,” but the proposed Iowa amendment goes beyond echoing the right established by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The full wording: “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.”

If a majority of voters approve the amendment, judges hearing challenges to laws would be required to look skeptically on any restrictions on possessing firearms.

At minimum, the provision would complicate elected lawmakers’ efforts to thoughtfully regulate guns, whether proactively or in response to large- and small-scale killings and maimings. Worse, it could lead to challenges of what little remains of gun regulations in our state.

Iowans enjoy robust gun rights. The state’s Republican lawmakers already have eliminated the need for permits to carry a handgun and expanded the “stand your ground” defense, among other moves. If Iowa judges must weigh these laws using strict scrutiny, there’s little chance a future Statehouse could ever reverse or even moderate them.

Some proponents of the amendment call these arguments fearmongering, saying that “common sense” restrictions on guns, such as barring felons from having them, would not be invalidated, maybe not even challenged. Well, these are many of the same people who have argued that overturning Roe v. Wade is all upside and couldn’t imperil the lives of girls and women.

Some observers also say that state provisions became less important in June when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down New York state’s permitting regime and radically altered how courts should interpret the right “to keep and bear arms” in the federal Bill of Rights.

That might be so. If anything has unified legal experts’ writings over the summer, it’s uncertainty about exactly what the practical effects of the Supreme Court ruling and state amendments like Iowa’s will be.

Iowans should not compound the problem created by the U.S. Supreme Court. There is no justification for undertaking a “strict scrutiny” experiment here in Iowa.

The case against this amendment stands even if it were not going before Iowa voters in the same year as gunmen slaughtered 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas; two young women in a church parking lot in Ames; or three campers, including a child, at Maquoketa Caves State Park.

Amending the Iowa Constitution is usually about a four-year process. It isn’t easy because the implications can be profound and difficult to reverse. This proposal is not beneficial, and its potential for catastrophic harm is considerable. Repeal could be well-nigh impossible.

Changes to the Iowa Constitution should be careful. This idea is haphazard and harmful. Iowans should flip over their ballots and vote no.

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