Iowa Senate Republicans are advancing an effort to protect the right to keep and bear arms from what they consider federal infringements on the Second Amendment.
But although a three-member Senate subcommittee passed the "Second Amendment Preservation Act," Wednesday on a 2-1 vote, its Republican sponsor agreed with critics that the measure's language must be reworked to address several concerns.
Senate File 2002, introduced by Sen. Zach Nunn, R-Bondurant, would prohibit state and local law enforcement officers from enforcing federal laws, regulations, executive orders and other rules "infringing on the right to keep and bear arms."
Nunn, who is running for the Republican congressional nomination in Iowa's 3rd District, said in an interview with the Des Moines Register Tuesday evening his concern is with federal agencies that he said could write rules that infringe on the Second Amendment without lawmakers weighing in.
"We’re concerned that there could be a move at the federal level, through a department or agency, that could really place some restrictions on a gun owner’s rights and have no one in the legislative body — either the federal level or the state level — making their voice heard," he said.
The concept behind Nunn's bill is similar to the "Second Amendment sanctuary" resolutions that have been adopted by at least 33 Iowa counties. The largely symbolic national movement has spread rapidly through the state since July, when Jasper County became the first to pass such a resolution.
The Iowa Firearms Coalition, a gun rights advocacy group, has supported the county-level resolutions as a response to fears that President Joe Biden could tighten gun law enforcement. But Richard Rogers, one of the group's lobbyists, said at Wednesday's subcommittee that the organization is undecided on the bill and would like to see some of the language changed.
"We do think it’s a very important issue that the state make these statements — somewhat symbolic but also something to fall back on if they’re pressed," he said. "No congressional act, no presidential order, no administrative rule of bureaucracy is law if it goes against the Constitution."
The bill, in its current form, states: "All federal acts, laws, executive orders, administrative orders, court orders, rules and regulations ... that infringe on the people's right to keep and bear arms as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States shall be invalid in this state, shall not be recognized by this state, shall be specifically rejected by this state and shall have no effect in this state."
The bill lists several examples of federal infringements on the right to keep and bear arms, including efforts to forbid the sale or transfer of firearms or to tax, register or track firearms in a way "that might reasonably be expected to create a chilling effect" on the purchase or ownership of guns or ammunition.
The bill would make law enforcement agencies and local governments liable for civil lawsuits if they employ officers who knowingly violate the Second Amendment, and it would carry a penalty of $50,000 per violation.
Robert Palmer, a lobbyist for the Iowa League of Cities, said the current bill contains no path for cities to avoid lawsuits if they employ an officer who commits a violation. He suggested adding specific language that would let cities take action to avoid becoming legally liable.
Traci Kennedy, the Iowa chapter leader of Moms Demand Action, said a similar law in Missouri has resulted in several lawsuits against the state and faced opposition from law enforcement officers.
"Rather than focus on legislation that will likely lead to expensive court battles and confusion among law enforcement and actually make Iowa citizens less safe, we’re asking you as lawmakers to focus your time and energy on reducing gun violence," she said.
Kelly Meyers, a lobbyist for the Iowa County Attorneys Association, said she's concerned the bill's wording would make it difficult for state and local officers to enforce federal gun laws on restricting guns belonging to people convicted of domestic violence offenses.
The bill contains some provisions detailing cooperation with federal law enforcement that would not constitute a violation, and Nunn said his intention is not to make things more difficult for officers.
"This is not to say they can’t work with federal law enforcement," he said. "It’s to ensure that if law enforcement at a state, local or county level feels like they are put in an impossible position between the Second Amendment and a federal regulation they now have some level of protection."
Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, who opposed the bill in subcommittee, said if Republicans do pass the measure they should focus instead on training officers not to violate Iowans' rights.
"What I think you really ought to be doing, Sen. Nunn, is you ought to be educating law enforcement, educating them on these scenarios," he said.
Iowa Republicans, who hold majorities in the House and Senate, have passed several pieces of legislation loosening the state's gun regulations in recent years, including "stand your ground" legislation in 2017 and a 2021 law allowing Iowa adults to purchase and carry handguns without first getting a permit.
Lawmakers have also proposed amending the Iowa Constitution to add the right to keep and bear arms. That measure will appear on Iowans' ballots this fall for an up or down vote.
Stephen Gruber-Miller covers the Iowa Statehouse and politics for the Register. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 515-284-8169. Follow him on Twitter at @sgrubermiller.
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: 2nd Amendment bill would change how Iowa police enforce gun laws