Iowa State Capitol Rotunda
Photo Credit: Angelo Mercado via Flickr (CC-By-NC-ND 2.0)

Floor debate in the last few weeks on the fundamental rights of gun ownership and free speech have exposed profound philosophical differences between Republicans and Democrats in the Iowa House.

2nd Amendment:

Last week, the House voted on Senate Joint Resolution 18. This resolution would restrict the government from infringing on the fundamental right to keep and bear arms. SJR18 passed along party lines, 53-46. During the debate, Democrats claimed to support the rights of legal gun owners while at the same time supporting bills to strip away even the most basic firearms rights.

For years, House Republicans have worked to strengthen rights for law abiding Iowans. Iowa is one of only six states without 2nd Amendment protections in the state constitution, and Republicans want to change that. The language approved by the House and Senate reads as follows: 

“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.”

This language would require a court reviewing Iowa’s firearms laws to use the judicial standard of strict scrutiny. This is the highest standard of judicial review and requires the government to prove that laws impacting the right to keep & bear arms must advance a “compelling governmental interest” and be narrowly tailored to achieve that interest. This language would not invalidate Iowa’s current or future laws unless the laws don’t serve a compelling governmental interest.

House Democrats claimed to support firearms rights on the floor during debate, but their actions tell a different story. During this session of the General Assembly, House Democrats have introduced at least 12 different pieces of legislation aimed at restricting law-abiding Iowans’ firearms rights. Bills like HF65 that would criminalize any person who owns a “large capacity” magazine that can hold over 10 rounds of ammunition, or HF125 that would put law abiding Iowans in prison for up to ten years if they possess or sell a “semiautomatic assault weapon,” a made-up class of weapons. Many law-abiding citizens, hunters and gun collectors own magazines that hold more than 10 rounds and own weapons that Democrats seek to criminalize. These bills and others like them were sponsored by 17 different Democrats. These same Democrats claimed to support firearms rights during floor debate to place 2nd Amendment rights in the Iowa Constitution.

The language in SJR18 is the same language that passed the House and Senate last year, but because of technical errors by the Secretary of State, will not be eligible for the public to vote on until 2022, if the legislature approves the same language in the next General Assembly.

Freedom of Speech:

College campuses were once places that welcomed the free exchange of ideas. Unfortunately, that has significantly changed in the last few years. Free speech zones, arbitrary restrictions on student funded groups, banning of speakers, and the removal of political signs have all become standard practice on university campuses, including here in Iowa.

The House and Senate worked on Senate File 274 in an effort to curb university policies that attack freedom of speech & association. What should have been a bill with bi-partisan support, turned in to a partisan attack by Democrats. They made every effort to cloud the issue and create objections based on a false narrative. The bill passed the House 52-44 with no Democrats supporting freedom of speech and association on campus. 

SF274 is a straightforward bill that prohibits Public Universities and Community Colleges from adopting speech codes that violate the First Amendment rights of any student. These schools are required to add policies acknowledging intellectual freedom and free expression. In response to a failed, unconstitutional policy at the University of Iowa, language in the bill explicitly extends First Amendment protections to student groups. The bill also prevents a campus from having limited free speech zones in outdoor areas. Even with the legislation, universities and colleges can still implement reasonable time, place and manner restrictions to activities, including assemblies, protests, speeches, petitions and recordings.

What should have been a simple floor discussion on the merits of free speech became a two-hour lecture in which House Democrats insinuated that supporting free speech for everyone was akin to Nazism and racism.  In a direct affront to the First Amendment, Democrats made it clear that they didn’t want viewpoint neutral restrictions; instead they wanted campus policies that prohibited speech they disagreed with. Their false narrative and display of hyper-partisanship were unexpected and disappointing to Republicans, who had worked to make the legislation to protect free speech bi-partisan.

Despite House Democrats best efforts, SF274 received bi-partisan support in the Senate and is now at the Governor’s office for consideration.

While close to 90 percent of legislation passed this session has been bi-partisan, the debate on the fundamental rights to keep and bear arms and speak freely brought profound differences between Democrats and Republicans into sharp focus, proving once again that elections have consequences and every vote matters.

Photo Credit: Angelo Mercado via Flickr (CC-By-NC-ND 2.0)

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