Editorial: 5 reasons to reject the keep and bear arms amendment – Des Moines Register


The clause’s innocuous-seeming wording belies a radical upheaval in the tools available for promoting public safety in Iowa.

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  • 1. Guns are Iowa’s most important right? Really?
  • 2. This is very different from the Second Amendment.
  • 3. Uncertainty abounds about how this would work.
  • 4. We’re in bad enough shape with Bruen.
  • 5. Nuanced problems need nuanced solutions.

If voters add “the right of the people to keep and bear arms” to the Iowa Constitution next month, nobody will gain new freedom or be less likely to become a victim.

But the clause’s innocuous-seeming wording belies a radical upheaval in the tools available for promoting public safety in the state.

Current law is plenty permissive when it comes to firearms. Nobody expects new restrictions anytime soon from Iowa’s Republican-dominated Legislature, and even proposals made by Democratic elected officials wouldn’t amount to more than an inconvenience for hunters, people interested in self-defense, and gun enthusiasts.

More:Iowa Poll: Most likely voters want to add right ‘to keep and bear arms’ to Iowa Constitution

Iowans should mark “no” as they fill out ballots over the next 10 days. The arguments against this ballot measure are many, but today we highlight five reasons to oppose the amendment:  

1. Guns are Iowa’s most important right? Really?

“Any and all restrictions of this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny,” the proposed amendment says. That means that, anytime a law related to firearms is challenged in court, judges must apply the highest skepticism to the law’s goal and means. No other rights enjoyed by Iowans are protected by such broad suspicion of regulation. That includes First Amendment rights, which courts assess with varying levels of scrutiny. Can we expect future amendments to try to stop judges from excusing police’s violations of Fourth Amendment search and seizure protections? Or to reverse last year’s crackdown on the right of assembly? No? Why should guns be so special? Former state Rep. Andy McKean, then a Republican, put it best when this language first came up in 2018: “I question why we would elevate the Second Amendment above all other amendments.”

2. This is very different from the Second Amendment.

To be fair, many advocates have been forthright about the significant differences between what’s on the Iowa ballot and what was ratified in 1791. But the shorthand “adding the Second Amendment to the Iowa Constitution” has proved irresistible at times, too, especially when supporters mislead by saying Iowa would join 44 other states in including “keep and bear arms” in its constitution. The better comparison is that only three states have the “strict scrutiny” language. Iowa would also explicitly state a premise that the U.S. Supreme Court has found hiding in the original Second Amendment’s discussion of a “well-regulated militia”: that possessing instantly lethal weapons is “a fundamental individual right.”

3. Uncertainty abounds about how this would work.

“Yes” voters assure the rest of us, citing the other strict scrutiny states: No existing laws are in jeopardy, and legislators would still be able to carefully craft valid gun restrictions in response to future problems. The muddy messaging from opponents of the amendment has included the assertion, “We can’t risk letting dangerous felons own firearms.” Neither side is really lying, but it’s naïve to think strict scrutiny would be free of unintended consequences. The truth is we don’t know whether judges or justices could be swayed to strike down what people call “common-sense” laws, and we don’t know what developments might influence the public’s desire for new gun laws. Let’s not launch an experiment.

4. We’re in bad enough shape after US Supreme Court ruling.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision invalidating New York state’s gun permitting, Bruen for short, moved the target for how courts determine whether any gun law, at the federal level or in any state, is permissible. A federal judge in West Virginia has already deemed it unconstitutional to make it a crime to have a gun with the serial number removed, because, he wrote, the law is inconsistent with the “historical tradition of firearm regulation” dating back centuries. Serial numbers were first required in 1968. Given that upheaval, Iowans need not introduce their own state-level free-for-all.

5. Nuanced problems need nuanced solutions.

Mass shootings, domestic violence, self-defense and hunting get a lot of attention when people talk about how guns are used, and each category is important. But about 80% of firearms deaths in Iowa are suicides. Finding ways to preserve those lives without infringing on rights is a knotty but important problem that nobody in the United States has figured out definitively. A Kaiser Family Foundation report this summer suggested that lower suicide rates are associated with a higher number of gun restrictions where the person lives. Iowa should not hamstring its efforts to combat suicide. About half of suicide attempts occur within 10 minutes of the current thought of suicide, according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. A scheme that results in more time for a person to find help is a worthy goal for legislators, and the state constitution should not be an extra obstacle.

Don’t bind the hands of future legislatures. Vote no on this ballot measure.

FURTHER READING: Racist gun laws and the Second Amendment

— Lucas Grundmeier, on behalf of the Register editorial board

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