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Iowa House panel backs elimination of gun permits

Iowa House panel backs elimination of gun permits

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The Iowa State Capitol building Friday, July 31, 2020, in Des Moines.

DES MOINES — Legislation to ease some gun restrictions and make Iowa the 19th state to adopt a permit-less constitutional carry approach drew cheers Monday from advocates as striking a blow for freedom, while critics called it an effort to unravel Iowa’s gun safety laws.

House Study Bill 254, which cleared a House Public Safety subcommittee by a 2-1 vote, would eliminate the need for Iowans age 21 or older to obtain a government permit to acquire or carry a firearm.

Other provisions would allow law enforcement and reserve officers to carry firearms on school grounds regardless of whether they were on duty; bar landlords of government-assisted housing from banning firearms; and create a Department of Public Safety database of state-approved organizations to train Iowa seeking to carry a handgun.

“We’re not plotting new ground here,” said subcommittee chairman Rep. Steve Holt, R-Denison. “This is not some revolutionary thing here. Eighteen states already have constitutional carry or permit-less carry.”

However, opponents charged the “gun lobby” at the Iowa Capitol was pushing a “radical and dangerous” bill that would threaten public safety by repealing Iowa’s law requiring background checks on handgun sales and Iowa’s law requiring a permit to carry a concealed handgun in public.

Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, said Iowans strongly support the current gun-safety system, which contributes to relatively low crime rate.

“Why mess with a good thing?” she asked, declining to support changes that seem to back a notion that constitutional gun rights are unlimited.

“We have a lot of controversial bills that are affecting Iowa’s image right now, hurting our business and workforce recruitment,” said Wessel-Kroeschell.

“Repealing Iowa’s bedrock public safety laws, such as the background check law and the permitting requirement for carrying a concealed gun, is extreme and it’s unpopular and it threatens public safety.”

However, Holt rebutted the claim HSB254 eliminates background checks, saying gun owners still will undergo FBI background checks that likely would strengthen safety checks.

“With this in place, everyone is going through that federal FBI background check,” he said, which will prevent a person who shouldn’t have a weapon from getting one.

“Those who cannot legally possess a firearm will still not be able to legally possess a firearm under the provisions of this bill, and those practicing their Second Amendment rights will no longer have to get a permission slip to practice their basic fundamental rights,” Holt said.

He “enthusiastically” forwarded the bill to the full House Public Safety Committee for consideration yet this week, with a deadline looming for policy bills to clear at least one legislative committee by Friday to remain eligible for consideration yet this session.

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Charlotte Eby, a Giffords lobbyist, said her group wants to maintain Iowa’s current background check requirements and permitting system. She said HSB524 “goes way too far beyond” what Iowans support once they find out more about the bill’s provisions.

Richard Rogers of the Iowa Firearms Coalition said the bill does not change any age, criminal history or other requirements for possessing a weapon in Iowa, while recognizing the right of 400,000 permitted gun permit holders to keep and bear arms in the “natural extension of the universally recognized right of self-defense.”

“This is a return to recognition and respect for a constitutionally protected right. It is not and no longer will be portrayed as a radical idea,” Rogers said. “There have been no ill effects from restoring liberty in these other states, and we can expect none here.”

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