DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law Friday a contentious measure eliminating a requirement that Iowans obtain a permit to acquire or carry handguns and loosening other state restrictions.

House File 756 “protects the Second Amendment rights of Iowa’s law-abiding citizens while still preventing the sale of firearms to criminals and other dangerous individuals,” the governor said in a statement.

The new law also takes “greater steps to inform law enforcement about an individual’s mental illness helping ensure firearms don’t end up in the wrong hands,” she said.

“We will never be able to outlaw or prevent every single bad actor from getting a gun, but what we can do is ensure law-abiding citizens have full access to their constitutional rights while keeping Iowans safe,” the Osceola Republican said in the statement.

The bill enacts a longtime wish of gun rights activists, with Iowa now joining 18 states that have similar “constitutional carry” provisions that advocates say will enhance individual rights while removing what sponsor Rep. Steve Holt, R-Denison, called a requirement they first get a “permission slip from the government.”

Signing the bill into law ends a system that allowed Iowans to exercise their gun rights but required “you must prove yourself not guilty in advance,” according to supporter Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig.

Reaction, predictably, fell along party lines.

“Gov. Reynolds has caved in to the most radical elements of her party,” Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, posted on social media.

Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Ross Wilburn, an Ames legislator who voted against HF 756, called Reynolds’ signing a “reckless disregard for the safety and well-being of Iowans.”

“Background checks are wildly popular, even among gun owners, as a common-sense way to keep people safe,” he said. “Legislation like this serves no purpose other than appeasing the gun industry and its powerful lobbyists.”

Across the partisan divide, Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann tweeted: “Despite the misinformation pushed by Democrats and coastal interest groups, today is a great day for law-abiding gun owners of this state.”

The law makes it more difficult for criminals to buy firearms “while strengthening Second Amendment rights for law-abiding citizens of this state,” he said.

Governor shifts

Based on earlier comments from Reynolds, gun control advocates had hoped she would veto the legislation.

In the wake of a 2018 Florida school shooting, Reynolds said Iowa had “reasonable and responsible gun laws on the books.” The state’s laws, including gun permits, should remain on the books, she said then.

Reynolds also said the federal government should strengthen background checks, adding that addressing gun violence is not “one thing in isolation.”

In 2019, she declined to support similar “constitutional carry” legislation, again saying background checks and permits were “the right thing to do.”

Asked about those statements recently, Reynolds acknowledged that in the past she said that the policies in place were good, but she would look at new legislation as it was presented.

The governor said she believes addressing gun violence requires a “holistic approach” including interagency cooperation, examining mental and behavioral health issues and education.

HF 756 ends the state’s current system that requires an Iowan who wants to acquire and carry a handgun to get a permit from a county sheriff, who runs a required federal background check on the individual before issuing a permit good for five years. After that, the individual who buys a handgun was required to show a permit to carry if a law enforcement officer requests to see it. The bill’s supporters said Iowans aged 21 and older who wish to have a permit still will be able to do so under a revamped optional system. Iowans buying a gun from a federally licensed dealer still would have to either pass a federal background check or present a permit to carry.

Wahls, however, argued that the “cumulative effect” of HF 756 — passed largely along party lines in the House and Senate — would be “to make it possible for someone to buy a weapon from a private seller without a background check and carry it anywhere without any training on how to safely operate the gun.”

Democrats said Iowa’s background check system had blocked nearly 15,000 illegal sales between 1998 and 2019.

“We don’t need to make it easier for bad guys to get guns,” said Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids. Opponents of HF 576 said the change would make it easy for felons, domestic abusers and those prohibited based on mental illness to buy handguns in Iowa.

However, Holt argued the new law will have the opposite effect because private sellers would not risk harsh penalties if they don’t know if the buyer has passed a background check.

Under the law, private sellers who transfer a firearm if they “know or reasonably should know that the other person is ineligible to possess dangerous weapons” would be committing a Class D felony carrying a potential penalty of up to five years in prison and a fine up of to $7,500.

‘Not for Iowans’

Erica Fletcher, a volunteer with Iowa Moms Demand Action, which lobbies for gun regulation, promised the group would continue “to fight to stop Iowa lawmakers from further weakening our gun laws and work to elect people who will actually protect our communities rather than put us at risk.”

“We’ve seen what happens when states weaken their gun laws — gun violence goes up and people die,” she said.

Chloe Gayer, a volunteer with Iowa Students Demand Action, said there was no reason for Reynolds to sign the bill.

“This bill is not for gun owners, it’s not for Iowans and it’s certainly not for our safety,” she said.

From the other side of the issue, the NRA applauded Reynolds’ action, calling it “a common-sense measure that allows law-abiding citizens to exercise their fundamental right of self-defense in the manner that best suits their needs.”

“The NRA fights for these rights because we recognize that our freedoms are fundamental and natural, not government-given,” said Jason Ouimet, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action.


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