DES MOINES - Iowa's guns rights would be among the strongest in the nation, under a proposed state constitutional amendment that cleared the Iowa House this week.
Democrats say the measure would eventually allow people to bring guns into Iowa's schools, the Capitol and other public buildings. That concerns county officials.
"I think one of the concerns for counties is in our courthouses where there are emotional situations, what that could lead to, particularly domestic disputes," said Sioux County Supervisor Mark Sybesma. "In our treasurer's office, a lot of times people come in very disgruntled - emotions and that type of thing. Guns sometimes aren't the best mix."
The number of Iowa gun permit holders has soared from about 40,000 to 100,000 over the past year, according to data from the Iowa Department of Public Safety. The increase came after a state law took effect in January 2011 that made Iowa a "shall issue" instead of a "may issue" state for weapons permits, largely taking away sheriffs' discretion of whether to issue those permits.
County sheriffs decided Thursday to oppose the latest move by state lawmakers to put the Second Amendment right to bear arms in the Iowa Constitution. They said the constitutional amendment would do away with the state's permitting and regulation of weapons altogether.
"We're not sure why it's necessary to move this next step so soon because we're not sure that's where Iowans want to be," said Susan Cameron, a lobbyist for the Iowa State Sheriffs' and Deputies' Association, which represents law enforcement in Iowa's 99 counties. "It goes far beyond the U.S. Constitution and what other states have done."
Kamatchus: Proposed gun laws have no benefit
By ANDREW POTTER
Marshall County Sheriff Ted Kamatchus said the new gun laws approved by the Iowa House Wednesday have no purpose.
It's a feeling county sheriffs statewide seem to be having about the laws that appear to be giving gun owners more rights.
"We see no benefit," Kamatchus said.
He said these proposed laws are coming on the heels of the approval last year by lawmakers to expand the qualifications for those to get gun permits, which caused an increase in local gun permits being issued.
"We just made a change and I would rather for the new legislation to get a chance to work," Kamatchus said.
He feels there could be several other places of focus for legislators aside from new gun laws and cited the economy as one of them.
"The government has a lot of other issues that it needs to attend to," Kamatchus said.
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The Iowa House this week rejected using the wording found in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and instead voted 61-37 for an amendment to the state constitution that says Iowans have a fundamental right to "acquire, keep, possess, transport, carry, transfer and use arms to defend life and liberty and for all other legitimate purposes" that cannot be infringed upon or denied.
House Joint Resolution 2009 also would prohibit mandatory licensing, registration and special taxation of firearms.
Cameron said while the resolution itself does not strike down Iowa gun laws, it would likely lead the courts to strike down gun laws that are challenged in court. She said the constitutional amendment would make it difficult to regulate the possession or carrying of guns in any way.
"That just really unravels any kind of regulation over firearms going forward, once anything is challenged in court," Cameron said. "Our sheriffs tell us that they're not hearing from their constituents that this is what they want. We did not feel like there was a problem in Iowa with people being able to get weapons."
But state Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, said Iowa is one of only six states that does not have the a version of the Second Amendment right to bear arms in its state constitution. He said guns are intended to "protect ourselves against other people and against a tyrannical government."
"These are protections that Iowans deserve and need. Why wouldn't we do this?" said Windschitl, who said he is a gun owner and whose family owns a firearms store in Missouri Valley.
Windschitl said the argument that this constitutional amendment will scrap all Iowa's gun laws "is just false on its face."
Instead, he called the proposed constitutional amendment a pro-active step to protect Iowans' Second Amendment rights in light of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago, in which justices decided by a narrow 5-4 margin to protect Americans' gun rights.
"We've seen judicial abuses before. I'm concerned about future judicial abuses. Iowans deserve to have their 2nd Amendment rights protected in our state constitution," Windschitl said. "By providing the most precise and specific language possible there's not going to be a question in the future about what the 2nd Amendment really means based on some judge's interpretation."
Chris Rager, state liaison of the National Rifle Association, did not return calls from IowaPolitics.com seeking comment for this story.
Like other proposed constitutional amendments, House Joint Resolution 2009 would need to clear two consecutive General Assemblies before going before a vote of the people. That means the soonest it would be on the ballot is November 2013.
But judging by the reaction of Democrats, who hold a slim 26-24 majority in the Iowa Senate, that's not likely to happen.
"My observation is the language, as written, basically says we'll be taking the metal detectors out of the basement of this building. It would allow citizens to come into this building with guns," said Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, referring to the Iowa Capitol. "There are times when the jobs we do up here and the legislation we deal with is highly emotional. I think it's probably a good thing that we keep guns out of this building."