Gun rights bill clears Iowa Senate committee

DES MOINES — House-passed legislation to significantly expand firearm rights in Iowa came out of a Senate committee without a mark Thursday, and the bill’s sponsor predicted it eventually will win full Senate support with minor technical changes.

“House File 517 is firearms legislation that has been a priority for many Iowans for many years, and this is a large step in the right direction to address what the voters of Iowa have been asking us to do for many years,” Sen. Dan Dawson, R-Council Bluffs, told Senate Judiciary Committee members who voted 10-2-1 to move the bill to the Senate debate calendar.

The bill achieved “funnel-proof” status — clearing one legislative chamber and a committee of the other to remain eligible for action this session — but only after minority Democrats raised numerous concerns about "stand your ground" immunity for gun owners that would remove the duty to retreat in a public place in using deadly force when confronted with danger to life or property.

Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, who voted against the bill, said some of the proposed changes can be supported, but she expressed concern the bill could be construed to give immunity from criminal or civil liability for all damages in cases where reasonable force was used against an aggressor in the protection of property.

“No one has a right to kill someone over property. There has to be some type of overt action to be concerned for your safety or another person’s safety has to be articulable by a reasonable person’s standard there,” Dawson said.

“Nothing in stand your ground gives you the right to kill someone because they are walking away with a boom box or a big-screen TV. There has to be a threat there for your life or someone else’s life,” he added.

“That’s not what the bill says, so it needs to be fixed,” Petersen contended during the meeting that spanned more than an hour.

Petersen and other Democrats on the committee also raised concerns about provisions that would allow new carry applicants to complete online training courses to demonstrate knowledge of firearm safety; remove age requirements for minors handling handguns under the supervision of a parent or guardian; keep information on people who possess weapon permits confidential; remove a penalty for carrying a weapon while under the influence if someone is in his or her own home or business: and allow permitted weapons in public buildings like the state Capitol building.

Sen. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, who also voted against the bill, said he worried allowing guns in the Capitol would have a chilling effect on democracy, and Dawson conceded that was one of the policy areas that would get revisited before the bill comes to the Senate floor for debate.

“We have to be very, very careful when we are making a statutory right that is brand-new on use of force to make sure that it is doing exactly what it should do and in situations of defense of property. I don’t think anyone in that room wanted that to be the outcome, so we’ve got to vet this very carefully before we doing anything on it,” Boulton told reporters after the meeting.

Two Democrats joined eight Republicans in supporting the bill in committee, and Dawson expressed confidence he has the votes in the Senate to pass the bill that likely would get a favorable reception from Republican Gov. Terry Branstad.

“This bill is a priority here,” Dawson told reporters after the meeting. “You can talk to a Democrat or Republican out there. It is a deeply embedded personal belief and right here in rural areas and urban areas here in Iowa and we will be passing firearms related this session.”

Another GOP freshman, Sen. Jeff Edler of State Center, told committee members and a standing-room crowd Thursday “I’m proud for this, I’m proud for us and I’m proud for Iowa.”

The comprehensive firearms bill also allows carrying firearms on snowmobiles and ATVs on property that doesn’t belong to the carrier; creates a uniform permit to carry weapons and provides for five-year permits to acquire handguns rather than single-year permits; legalizes short-barreled rifles and shotguns; and adds penalties for illegal sales.

“I’m concerned about Iowans’ safety with this bill, and it covers so many areas and there are so many holes and problem with this legislation that I’m very hopeful that you’ll be open to a pretty significant amendment or amendments so that we don’t do significant harm to the safety of Iowans,” said Petersen.

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