By Jeff Knox
(February 15, 2018) A Constitutional Carry bill is moving in Iowa, along with a constitutional amendment recognizing the right to keep and bear arms (Iowa is one of the few states that does not have a right to arms enshrined in its constitution), and a measure to lift the ban on firearms in vehicles when picking up and dropping off students at schools.
I don’t want to jinx them, but at the moment things are looking fairly promising.
I have a particular interest in Iowa because I was deeply involved in an effort to pass Constitutional Carry there in 2010. Unfortunately, that effort imploded and came damaged the local rights movement as various proponents of gun rights got their beams crossed and went to war with each other, instead of working together.
In the end, the legislature passed a relatively good, Shall Issue licensing system, which was much better than the discretionary system that had been in place previously. The victory was expensive, however, as the infighting created some lifelong enemies among rights advocates who should work together, and came close to completely tanking the rights movement in the state. It also left a lot of low-hanging fruit on the tree. Now, 8 years later, progress is being made toward finally harvesting some of that fruit.
Taking the long view, we often hear warnings about letting the perfect become the enemy of the good, or admonitions to take what we can get when we can get it. That is often sound advice, but sometimes “strategic” advice is really bad, most notably that chestnut that says we must accept something unpalatable lest we have something much worse shoved down our throats. That may be true in some truly benighted places like Illinois or New York, but across most of the country, it’s a lie as my late father wrote in a column, later compiled in The Gun Rights War entitled “The Danger of Being ‘Reasonable’”
In Iowa in 2010, the admonitions were about taking what we could get, and not letting the perfect stand in the way of the possible, but both of those approaches were wrong in that case. In fact, the perfect was quite possible, but some of the players were more interested in scoring an easy win than they were with getting the best possible deal.
One of the most overlooked strategies in gun politics is the power of losing. That’s what the NRA did in 1992, when then-ILA Executive Director Tanya Metaksa faced tremendous pressure to “come to the table” and at least defang the Clinton “Assault Weapons” ban. Backed by a hard-line NRA Board Tanya stood her ground – and lost. The Clinton Ban passed with Vice President Al Gore casting the deciding vote.
But that loss led directly to the Democrats’ crushing 1994 defeat and made gun control a deadly “third rail” the next twenty years. It also prevented Al Gore from carrying his own home state in 2000. With Tennessee’s eleven electoral votes, President Gore would have won handily.
The 2010 Iowa battle had all of the pieces in place for three possible outcomes. The situation is described in more detail in this January 2010 article, but here’s the basic gist: Republicans had controlled Iowa for years, and had done nothing to improve the state’s lousy gun laws. Democrats declaring their support for gun rights had swept into power in the 2008 elections, but they were faced a tremendous backlash against Obama and Congress pushing through Obamacare. Republicans wanted to force a vote on Constitutional Carry, to show the Democrats’ true colors. Democrat leaders wanted to avoid that vote at all costs because they knew that their only choices were to either block the bill and go down en masse, or allow a vote, and have many of their number support it to save their own skins. Either way, enough Democrats would be damaged enough to ensure that they would lose their majority in November.
The same Alaska-style bill had failed by a single vote the previous year, so passage was a real possibility. If it failed, rights advocates would have a choice of either accepting the defeat, and securing a guarantee of passage in the next session after angry GunVoters ousted the traitors, or they could demand a clean, very good, Shall Issue carry bill as an alternative, providing Democrats with an avenue for possibly avoiding annihilation at the polls.
What actually happened was a complete surprise to both of the rights activist groups and their Republican allies: NRA Headquarters swooped in to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, with a terrible “compromise” offer.
Even though there were at least two NRA Directors from the state, including former Des Moines Chief of Detectives Kayne Robinson, who had served as Vice President for 5 years and President for two more, and Clel Baudler, a sitting member of the Iowa Legislature, the NRA had long ignored Iowa. Until 2010 whent the NRA suddenly decided it was time to save the day.
The real cause is a mystery, but it appears that Democrat leaders in the legislature – perhaps with the assistance of Baudler and Robinson – went directly to the NRA and offered them a path to an easy victory. All NRA had to do was offer a bill acceptable to the Democrat leadership, and it would be pushed through as an item on their Consent Agenda with a simple voice vote.
NRA took the bait and things went downhill from there.
Iowa Carry chose to work with NRA to improve the atrocious bill NRA started with, while IGO went ballistic.
The point here is not to criticize the NRA, though they certainly earned it in this case, nor to cast aspersions on Iowa Gun Owners nor on Iowa Carry (now known as the Iowa Firearms Coalition, though they are not affiliated with us). The point is to encourage rights activists to study their history, think strategically, and always look at the bigger picture before committing to a strategy.
By the way, the carry bill that eventually passed in 2010 – at about the same time that Constitutional Carry passed in Arizona – received almost unanimous support in its final votes, clearly showing that the perfect really was possible, if everyone had just stuck to their guns.