“Vermont Carry” vs. “Shall Issue” In Iowa
Once again this year, competing bills seeking to reform Iowa’s iniquitous weapons carry laws have been introduced. This year however, this seems to be causing a growing fissure in the gun rights community.
One bill, House File 596/Senate File 473, the “Vermont Carry” bill, is being touted as the “REAL Right-to-Carry Bill.” This bill is being pushed by the group Iowa Gun Owners (IGO) and was sponsored in the House by Rep. Sorenson (R-74) and in the State Senate by Sen. Hartsuch (R-41). It currently has 24 co-sponsors in the House and 9 in the Senate.
According to IGO, HF596/SF473 would “[restore] the 2nd Amendment in Iowa by eliminating mandatory government training, paying fees, and the whole concept of having to beg permission to exercise a Constitutional right.” The bill “would allow any Iowan, who is not a felon or otherwise barred by law from owning weapons, to carry a weapon for self-defense, concealed or openly, WITHOUT having to get government permission.” [Emphasis in original.] This is often called “Vermont Carry” because the only two states that allow it are Vermont and (more recently) Alaska. Many other western states, however, allow citizens to carry openly without a permit, while requiring a permit to carry concealed.
The other bill, which has not had been assigned bill numbers yet, is a “shall issue” law written by the NRA, and supported by the pro-gun groups Iowa Carry (IC) [of which I’m a dues-paying member], Iowa Sportsmen’s Federation, and the Iowa State Rifle & Pistol Association. Current Iowa law allows local sheriff’s total discretion on whether or not to issue weapons permits to qualified applicants. The current law says that sheriffs “may issue” permits, so it is often called a “may issue” law. This has essentially left Iowa with 99 policies on issuing weapons permits, one for each county. The new NRA bill would address the five key criteria identified as essential by Iowa Carry: “Shall Issue,” standardized training, reciprocity (with other states), an appeals process for permit denials, and privacy of records.
Although Iowa Carry had ostensibly partnered with the NRA on this bill, once NRA had assured IC that it’s five points would be addressed, IC appears to have then been relegated to the role of a father-to-be from the 1950’s, waiting nervously in the hospital lobby to see what the so-called “professionals” delivered. Input from us Iowa “local yokels” seemed to be pretty minimal (from my limited vantage point).
Surprisingly to some, the NRA bill has come under heavy fire from fellow guns rights activists, most notably IGO. While IGO’s disparagement might be casually dismissed as merely trying to push their own bill to the top of the heap, the criticism is coming from many quarters. Jeff Knox at The Firearms Coalition has been panning the NRA’s bill, as has Gun Owners of America.
Another voice joining the chorus is long-time gun activist Ed Dolan, currently the “Right to Keep and Bear Arms” Project Leader for the Iowa Campaign for Liberty (C4L). Dolan has fought in the trenches for the Second Amendment here in Iowa for a good many years, including working for the NRA as an “election volunteer coordinator.” His is an opinion I respect. In a recent email on behalf of C4L, Dolan outlines problems with the NRA bill and endorses the IGO Vermont Carry bill.
One problem Dolan identifies with the NRA bill (and probably with any arms licensing regime) is that “it ignores constitutional principles by accepting the State’s power to reduce our God-given constitutional rights to fee-based, permitted privileges.” Indeed it’s hard to say that one has a “right” to keep and bear arms if one has to ask for government permission and pay to exercise it.
Dolan also identifies three nuts-and-bolts problems with the NRA bill, which he puts under the category of “Solutions in Search of a Problem.” Firstly, according to Dolan, the bill “[a]dds unnecessary federal restrictions to Iowa’s purchase and permitting process, barring thousands of peaceable Iowans from protecting their families.” From what I understand, the NRA bill would basically codify the dreaded federal Lautenberg Amendment into Iowa law. If we ever manage to get it repealed at one level, it would then still exist at the other.
Secondly, Dolan says the bill “[i]nvents a new victimless crime of being ‘under the influence’ (undefined) while carrying. I call it the ‘Two beers, too bad’ law. You lose your gun rights forever without ever ‘skinning that smokewagon!’” While no one advocates drinking while armed, “under the influence of alcohol” would be open for wide interpretation by anti-gun police and prosecutors. Would a gulp of wine at communion or a gargle of Scope put you “under the influence?” We just don’t know. Let me also add: “Skinning your smoke wagon” sounds painful!
Thirdly, the NRA bill “[r]aises the [permit to carry] age from 18 to 21 years of age. Again, why?” It would be pretty hard to explain to an 18 to 20 year old Iowa Guardsman why he can be trusted to carry a Javelin antitank missile in Afghanistan but not a six-shooter at home, but civilians only three years older than himself can.
If Iowa gun owners learned anything last legislative season (when a mediocre gun bill was amended into an atrocious gun bill), these “compromises” that the NRA has built into the bill will be treated as a floor, not a ceiling, by anti-gun legislators. You would think the NRA would make their bill as clean and tight as possible to start out; but they didn’t. When it emerges from the legislative sausage press it will be even worse.
This is not to say the shall issue bill is entirely without merit. It would bring Iowa’s carry laws in line with the Iowa Constitution’s mandate that laws have a “uniform operation” across the state. That is important. And it would redress those five points sought by Iowa Carry.
Iowa Carry, for its part, doesn’t oppose IGO’s Vermont Carry bill, it just doesn’t think it’s politically doable right now. “We’ve had a hard enough time going from may issue to shall issue,” said Sean McClanahan, president of IC. “It’s just not politically feasible.” He adds: “We lost rights a little at a time. We have to take them back little by little.”
There is truth to those words. People who forgo “better” (shall issue) in hopes of “best” (Vermont Carry), often end up with neither. Unfortunately, in this case I have serious doubts that the “better” option is really better.
At the risk of alienating some of my friends at Iowa Carry, I’ll be pushing my representatives to support the Vermont Carry bill (HF596/SF473) and not the NRA bill. Second Amendment purists might not be able to win the battle for Vermont Carry in Iowa, but it’s a good hill to die on.