A recent meeting with county supervisors in the district centered around the latest attempt to protect Iowans’ rights to keep and bear arms. The principle of preemption, simply put, is that state law preempts, or comes before, local regulations. This law means cities or counties cannot be more strict than Iowa law in the area of firearms.
The new law seems widely misunderstood or intentionally ignored. The first argument heard is usually one of local control. While I typically support government closest to the people, your Second Amendment rights are enshrined in the Constitution. They are not subject to local control. Or state control. Or even Congressional control, if some of those fools would read the document. Additionally, I believe that one of the first purposes of government is to protect citizens’ natural rights. Firearm preemption is the right policy, and we are fortunate to have a long history of state government doing its job in this area.
Other than constitutional considerations, it makes sense to have one set of laws on firearms in Iowa. Imagine trying to cross the state while trying to comply with each city or county’s version of firearm regulation. Some cities with a strong Democrat political machine may go so far as to ban firearms altogether like was tried in Virginia. Some municipalities may forbid having a round in the chamber while carrying or limit magazine size. Other cities or counties would have no regulation beyond state or federal law. This hodge-podge of ordinances could cause residents to believe their actions were legal in some cities and counties in Iowa, as they should be, only to be arrested and convicted with serious penalties in other cities or counties.
Iowa first passed what is known as firearms preemption language in 1990. This language addressed the growing number of cities and counties that violated the U.S. Constitution and restricted law-abiding citizens’ ability to keep and bear arms. To put these laws into perspective, the current wave of concealed carry freedom hadn’t swept the country or Iowa. Permits to carry a concealed weapon were hard to get, and the county sheriff had full discretion. Even with so few citizens carrying, local governments were still restricting the rights of the citizen. The Iowa Legislature stepped in and made Iowa Code the only voice on the issue.
Over time, some entities began to encroach on this law, and even openly contradict it. So in 2010, twenty years later, the Legislature had to restate preemption and expand the language in Iowa Code. When the bill to move Iowa from “May issue” to “Shall issue” a permit passed, language was included that made it clear: “All permits so issued shall be for a period of five years and shall be valid throughout the state except where the possession or carrying of a firearm is prohibited by state or federal law.”
It is clear that Iowa law intends that the permit is valid everywhere except where prohibited by the state.
Fast forward to 2017. Local councils and boards were at it again and were working around established law. It was still necessary to restate the obvious preemption policy of the state. This time, we added the citizen’s ability to sue the local government if the citizen suffered damages while their rights were restricted. Also, the Legislature responded to a history of the Iowa Attorney General giving legal opinions that some local restrictions weren’t actually “ordinances.” Instead of banning “ordinances” alone, language was expanded to include some local governments’ methods to bypass state law. Iowa Code Chapter 724.28 was expanded to state: “… ordinance, measure, enactment, rule, resolution, motion, or policy…”
But this status did not last.
Local governments continued their assault on your Second Amendment rights. Notably, Des Moines tried to ban ammunition magazines over ten rounds. Another community tried to regulate ammunition storage. In the 2020 session, we passed House File 2502. Authored by Rep. Matt Windschitl of Missouri Valley, and floor managed by Rep. Holt of Denison in the House and myself in the Senate, this bill adds ammunition storage, attachments, and modifications to the list of subjects to be controlled at the state level. A notable piece of policy included was a provision that a local government entity could restrict weapons in a specific place if a metal detector or armed security were present. The intent is that if the citizen is disarmed, the government must take responsibility for their safety. That citizen can sue for damages due to being disarmed. The Iowa Firearms Coalition was instrumental in the last three bills going back to 2010.
After four pieces of legislation, all signed by the governor at the time of passage, you would think mayors, council members, supervisors, and department heads would quit disarming the honest man or woman and worry about the criminal. But that doesn’t seem to be the pattern of the last thirty years. We don’t seem to have too much of a problem in western Iowa, but it never hurts to remind local officeholders you value your gun rights, and you now know they are protected at the state level.