Iowa – Continued

The Iowa Controversy

By Jeff Knox

(Manassas, VA, January 15) The Iowa Legislature started their brief 2010 election year session last Monday and fortunately, as of Friday, January 15th, NRA had still not filed their concealed carry reform bill.  The NRA proposal first surfaced last November as a revolting collection of sloppily worded amendments to Iowa’s atrocious weapons laws. Thanks to the efforts of rights groups, including The Firearms Coalition and GunVoter.org, NRA made several revisions, improving their first proposal, yet still falling far short of a good bill.  NRA’s current offering could be a barely tolerable fallback, assuming a good bill wasn’t possible, but the current political situation argues for stronger demands.  While the latest version has a number of very good provisions, it also contains things that simply shouldn’t be there.  It boils down to something simple: how much poo should Iowa GunVoters eat?

Years ago, I had a science teacher who provided a great analogy.  In order to demonstrate how important the purity of research was, he brought in a saltshaker.  He assured us it contained salt, but everyone in the class could see it was polluted with dark flecks.  He eventually acknowledged that the black flecks were dried dog poo. The question was how much poo was an acceptable amount to use on our food.  The unanimous answer was none!

NRA, in tacit complicity with the Iowa Democrat leadership, has offered GunVoters polluted salt.  Their Concealed Carry Reform proposal offers mostly salt – most of the things GunVoters have been seeking for years – yet adds a substantial dose of dog poo.

Specifically, the proposal contains language making it a crime to be “under the influence” (no legal definition) of drugs or alcohol (or in illegal possession of a controlled substance) while in a vehicle. Not in a moving vehicle, not while driving, not while committing a crime, but simply while being in a vehicle.  The NRA has offered up, on a silver platter, an entirely new victimless gun crime – the type of unreasonable, unconstitutional law we’ve been fighting for years.  This one not a concession or compromise forced by our opponents, but volunteered by the NRA!  What is the rationale for inventing a new gun crime where none currently exists?  Iowa has many existing laws against behaving badly with a gun.  Crime statistics in Iowa, and across the country, indicate no pressing problem with lawful firearms carriers getting juiced up and committing crimes with their firearms.  This section of the NRA proposal is a solution looking for a problem and it should be cut from the proposal.

Another problem:  Iowa has a “Mother May I?” requirement.  Anyone wishing to purchase a handgun must first get permission from the county sheriff.  Most laws like this were initiated by the KKK back in the 1920’s and were racist in origin, designed to keep “undesirables” from acquiring guns.  Most states have repealed such laws, and with NRA support, repealing the Iowa law should be a slam-dunk.  Yet NRA did not pursue it.  The NRA proposal improves on current law, taking away the sheriffs’ discretion and substituting a NICS check, but it condones the practice of requiring permission and adds redundancy to the process.  An applicant who passes the NICS check gets a “Permit to Acquire a Handgun” and then goes down to the local gun shop only to submit to another NICS check for each gun he buys.  Rather than being modified, improved, or streamlined, the requirement to ask the state’s permission to buy a handgun should be stricken from the law.

The NRA proposal also ups the age limit for applying for a carry permit from 18 to 21 years of age.  Again, there have been no reports of irresponsible college students with carry permits running amok in Iowa or other states with a limit below 21.  This is another case of trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist, while revoking the rights of an entire group of people – not because they have committed a crime, but simply because a bureaucrat thought it was a good idea.  While increasing the age requirement of applicants might help Iowa secure a few more reciprocity agreements with some states, that doesn’t justify summarily revoking the rights of law-abiding citizens.

Another seriously sour note in the latest NRA proposal is the inclusion of a section for bringing the state in line with the federal NICS Improvement Act, a bureaucratic black hole which will cost taxpayers $Billions and could jeopardize the rights of veterans.  There is no evidence for, nor hope of this bill reducing crime.  Debate over the federal NICS Improvement Act is likely to go on for decades, but what matters here is that there is no reason to include this in a bill that is supposed to reform Iowa’s concealed carry laws.  NRA should drop the NICS Improvement Act language from their bill.  If they wish to push that law they should do so as a stand-alone bill.

Shifting from the bill itself to the political situation in Iowa, we have several factors in play.  There are three primary pro-gun factions: Iowa Carry, Iowa Gun Owners, and NRA.  NRA and Iowa Carry are theoretically working together, but not without friction.  I believe Iowa Carry would like to see some additional clean-up to the NRA proposal, but NRA says they want to run with it as is.

On the other side of the issue are the Sheriffs and Deputies Association and a group of Iowa Prosecutors.  The law enforcement groups have expressed a willingness to endorse carry reform, but they want to keep the local discretionary, and discriminatory, power inherent in current Iowa law.  Power is an addictive drug.

Then there are the politicians.  Iowa Republicans were in power for a long time, yet did nothing to improve the state’s terrible gun laws, and during those years had no real pressure from NRA to do so.  Now in the minority, Iowa Republicans have “seen the light” and are gung-ho in favor of anything that will gain them GunVoter support.  They are even more gung-ho about anything that will make GunVoters mad at the Democrats.  Meanwhile, Democrats are feeling the heat from widespread dissatisfaction with the Democrat-controlled Congress and White House, and the dismal economy.  They fear anti-Democrat backlash could send their majority into retirement this November.  Democrats elected on a pro-gun platform are rightly wary of casting an anti-rights vote – if one should come to the floor.  Of course, as in the US Congress, the job of party leaders is to keep those bills off the floor and avoid hard votes. Even with a strong contingent of pro-gun members, the Democrat caucus remains predominantly anti-rights, and they use any means available to keep rights legislation bottled up – protecting and/or silencing their own members, while pointing the finger of blame elsewhere when bills fail to come to the floor for a vote.  They have complete control, and without some serious pressure, can block any uncomfortable vote.

Part of the Republican strategy was to push the Iowa Gun Owners’ Alaska-style carry bill, forcing the Democrats into a hard up or down vote before November.  Many observers believe that if the IGO bill ever actually came to the floor, it would have full support of the Republicans and enough Democrats to put it over the top.

Democrat leaders realize the pressure is on and they are going to have a tough time shutting down all pro-rights bills this year without incurring significant damage from GunVoters in November.  Desperate to find an out, they needed some political cover.

Enter the NRA.

With a fired-up electorate of GunVoters, realizing that IGO would not support watered-down concealed carry reform, and that, while more amenable to making a deal, Iowa Carry doesn’t have the clout to subdue IGO, the Democrat leaders went straight to Washington.  Crafting a back-room deal with NRA, who has the clout to step right over IGO and to coerce Iowa Carry into cooperating, is a win-win, providing cover for wishy-washy politicians, while NRA can claim an easy victory, rather than working for the best possible bill for Iowa gunowners.  After all, even a small win will be a much-touted, highly publicized victory for NRA.

The Democrats laid out their strategy carefully, declaring that in this short, legislative session and troubled economy, they would only entertain budget related bills… Except that they were willing to let an NRA-sponsored carry bill slide through if it could be agreed upon in advance and quietly rammed through without amendments, debate, and delays.

NRA’s lowball offer, which barely met the minimum requirements of Iowa Carry, included unpalatable anti-rights provisions.  It met with immediate, strong resistance, and was quickly revised.  But the serious flaws in the revisions drew even more highly publicized criticism from activists and organizations, including The Firearms Coalition and GunVoter.com.

The third incarnation, which NRA says will be their final revision, still contains much that is unacceptable.  Since IGO will still push their Alaska-style, Constitutional Carry bill and since Republicans want to force the Democrats to hurt themselves with GunVoters, it seems highly unlikely that any gun bill is going to get through the legislature without debate and amendments.  Under the current arrangement, it seems likely that Democrats will allow a procedural vote on the NRA bill and then, when the Republicans try to make needed improvements or substitute the Alaska-style bill, the Democrat leadership will simply table the bill, preventing discussion or votes, and declare that, while they really wanted to pass carry reform, the unreasonable Republicans and “extremists” like IGO were insisting on wasting the Assembly’s time with debate and amendments, but the critical budget matters cant wait so carry reform will have to be put off.  Such a move would still provide the needed cover for their “lip-service” members from pro-gun districts.  The resulting finger-pointing, accusations, and counter-accusations would muddy the waters enough to dramatically blunt the impact of GunVoters come November.

The NRA effort in Iowa is a prime example of a top-heavy “our way is the only way; we’re the experts so just do what we say” mentality – one that stymies initiative and deflates grassroots activism.  NRA devised their strategy no discernible consultation with grassroots forces in Iowa, disregarding and undermining local strategic plans.  Iowa GunVoters have been fired-up and engaged.  They are geared up for a battle.  If the Democrat leadership succeeds in this political trick, using NRA for cover as they perform a sleight of hand to shut down concealed carry reform, GunVoters will be disheartened, and to a large extent, removed from the equation in November.  Even if the NRA bill passes, the momentum for serious reform may be lost and, if experience in other states holds true, the issue is not likely to be effectively revisited in this decade.  Iowans will spend at least ten years sifting dog poo out of their salt before there is another chance for real reform.  The bottom line is this:  Iowa had a historic opportunity historic reform this year and that opportunity has been seriously compromised by NRA’s shortsightedness.

Like they say, two heads are better than one – and ten are better than two.  Every rights group and activist must use every resource at their disposal to be as effective as possible – and that includes sharing and utilizing the knowledge, access, and expertise of other organizations – local and national.  When your organization is making strategic plans, be sure other groups are included in the discussion, and please don’t hesitate to tap the resources of The Firearms Coalition to help in the planning and execution.  That’s what we’re here for.

Jeff Knox is the Director of The Firearms Coalition at www.FirearmsCoalition.org and founder of www.GunVoter.org.  He is the son of gun rights legend Neal Knox and has been an active participant in the fight for individual liberty for most of his 50 years.

Permission to reprint or post this article in its entirety is hereby granted provided this credit is included.    Text is available at www.FirearmsCoalition.org.    To receive The Firearms Coalition’s bi-monthly newsletter, The Knox Hard Corps Report, write to PO Box 3313, Manassas, VA 20108.

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