On April 13th, 2017 Governor Branstad signed HF517 into law. Iowa Firearms Coalition, the chief catalyst for getting it passed, called it “the biggest gun bill in Iowa history.” While supporters say it will revitalize Iowans’ Second Amendment rights and increase safety, opponents said that it would take Iowa back to the “Wild West” and was even “evil” and sanctioned “racism.” Wow!
So, what’s actually in this thing? Let’s take a look. (Bear in mind that this piece is written by a layman for laymen. I’m not an attorney and nothing I say should be considered legal advice. I’m way too underpaid for that.) The law is broken down into fourteen separate divisions, each one dealing with a different topic.
Division One is pretty straight forward, it simply gets rid of Iowa’s state ban on “short-barreled” rifles and shotguns. Keep in mind that you still have to comply with federal law on these. This means paying hundreds of dollars to the federales, registering the weapon with them, getting a tax stamp, and a bunch of other stuff I’m never going to do. I’ll just stick with a 16″ or longer barrel. But Iowans who want short-barreled weapons now have legal avenue to get them.
Division Two is titled “CARRYING WEAPONS AND POSSESSION OF WEAPONS” and is a bit more wide-ranging. Most important here is that it changes Iowa law to recognize that “going armed with intent” to do bad things cannot be inferred just because someone is carrying a concealed weapon. That’s good news for Iowa’s 200,000+ permit to carry (PTC) holders, since lawfully carrying your firearm alone can no longer be used an excuse to charge someone with that class D felony by some politically motivated prosecutor.
Another provision in Division Two allows duly licensed private investigators and private security officers to carry weapons on school grounds in the performance of their duties. That won’t affect many people. This division also makes it a serious misdemeanor to carry or possess a dangerous weapon if you’re legally intoxicated, unless you’re on your own property.
One last provision here allows someone who gets busted for not having their PTC with them to have the charge dismissed if they show the court that they did indeed have a valid permit. Previously, forgetting your permit at home was the same as not having one at all.
Division Three seeks to clean up and clarify the PTC application process and training requirements. One change is that applicants will only have to provide proof of training for their INITIAL permit. It’s no longer required for renewals. That proof of training can come from the usual sources: military or police training from any time, or civvy training within the prior twenty-four months.
One thing that had opponents’ undies in a bunch was that this provision specifically says internet training was acceptable. Regardless of what the law says, I hope everyone gets as much good hands-on training as they can as soon as they’re able to. Not to appease the naysayers, which is a fool’s errand, but because it just makes good sense.
This provision also spells out that if you don’t apply for your renewal of a PTC within 30 days prior to its expiration or 30 after, your next application will be treated as an initial permit, WITH the training requirements and a $50 fee rather than a $25 renewal fee. Division Three also states that PTC’s will now have a uniform appearance statewide and if a PTC applicant is found to have been wrongfully denied a PTC that applicant can be awarded court costs.
Division Four is another straight forward provision. It merely makes Iowa’s completely unnecessary ” permit to acquire pistols or revolvers” good for 5 years, instead of the current 1 year. It will also make sure they are of a uniform appearance statewide. These archaic things were rendered redundant with the introduction of required instant background checks with gun sales, which is why gun rights supporters initially tried to scrap them outright. Oh well, this is still progress on this front.
For some reason Division Five elicited a lot of pants wetting by liberals and the press (but I repeat myself). This provision merely allows parents to instruct their children on how to safely handle handguns. A previous Iowa law said a child had to be at least 14 to even touch a handgun (but were allowed to fire rifles and shotguns at any age of the parents’ discretion).
HF517 states: “A parent or guardian or spouse who is twenty-one years of age or older, of a person under the age of twenty-one may allow the person ,while under direct supervision, to possess a pistol or revolver or the ammunition therefor for any lawful purpose , or while the person receives instruction in the proper use thereof from an instructor twenty-one years of age or older, with the consent of such parent, guardian or spouse.” The law defines “direct supervision” as: “supervision provided by the parent, guardian, or spouse who is twenty-one years of age or older and who maintains a physical presence near the supervised person conducive to hands-on instruction, and who maintains visual and verbal contact at all times with the supervised person.” Clutch my pearls!
I don’t understand how handguns are fundamentally different from rifles or shotguns. If kids are bound to encounter all types of firearms, why not be able to teach them about all types. When this same provision was proposed last year, opponents declared that it would create a “militia of toddlers” in Iowa. When opponents are reduced to arguing against issues with absurd hyperbole they obviously have no clue and no credibility.
Division Six is also pretty simple. It merely states that personally identifiable information on nonprofessional PTC holders kept by the Commissioner of Public Safety and county sheriffs shall be kept confidential. No more releasing the names and addresses of permit holders to the newspapers to be printed for back-fence gossip or as shopping lists for burglars.
Division Seven strengthens Iowa’s existing preemption law, which had previously been rendered almost meaningless by the state’s anti-gun attorney general. The new provision states that if a city or county makes a rule regulating gun ownership that is otherwise legal in the state, the person adversely affected may sue that city or county for damages.
Division Eight allows for PTC holders to carry concealed at the Iowa state capitol buildings and grounds. This is probably not something that most of us will be doing much of, but is probably more of a symbolic gesture since Iowans should be able to exercise basic freedoms there.
Division Nine prohibits the governor or local officials from seizing legal firearms or curtailing normal gun rights during a state of emergency. If an official violates this provision, it allows the aggrieved person to seek return of property, damages and/or injunctive relief.
Division Ten is probably the laws most controversial provision, what is commonly called “stand-your-ground.” While this got the most press it will probably not affect most gun owners (thank God). If you find yourself impacted by the stand-your-ground provisions of this law, you’re already in a world of hurt.
The “justifiable use of reasonable and deadly force” was already covered by existing law and HF517 alters some of the parameters around it, but not as drastically as you might think. If fact the legal definition of “reasonable force” doesn’t change at all. It’s still: “[T]hat force and no more which a reasonable person, in like circumstances, would judge to be necessary to prevent an injury or loss and can include deadly force if it is reasonable to believe that such force is necessary to avoid injury or risk to one’s life or safety or the life or safety of another, or it is reasonable to believe that such force is necessary to resist a like force or threat.”
Since the definition of “reasonable force” hasn’t changed, it stands to reason that what was “unreasonable” before the new law is still “unreasonable.” So people who think that the HF517 gives gun owners carte blanche to act like they’re in a Quentin Tarantino movie have another thing coming.
The new law does add that “a person may be wrong in the estimation of the danger or the force necessary to repel the danger as long as there is a reasonable basis for the belief of the person and the person acts reasonably in the response to that belief.” [Emphasis added.]
It also adds that a “person who is not engaged in illegal activity has no duty to retreat from any place where the person is lawfully present before using force as specified in this chapter.” That sentence is the meat of “stand-your-ground” that, for some reason, gives some people fits.
The law makes a few other tweaks as well, such as providing some criminal and civil immunity for a person is justified in using reasonable force.
I’m no lawyer, but none of this reads like stuff that will allow you to shoot everyone for no reason and certainly doesn’t declare an “open season on black people” (as I heard one critic warn). In fact, this isn’t some strange alien legal concept; only 15 states DON’T have “stand-your-ground” laws. By imposing a legal duty on crime victims to turn their back to their attackers and try to flee, Iowa was among the minority fringe of states. But no longer; welcome to normalcy Iowa!
Division Eleven makes it a class “D” felony to illegally buy a weapon or ammo, knowingly provide false information on your gun purchase paperwork, or get someone else to do it for you. This shouldn’t affect you unless you’re a crook.
Division Twelve removes the previous requirement that a person on a snowmobile or ATV carry their handgun a special retention holster. You can now use any kind of holster.
Division Thirteen was a rather neat little surprise since I didn’t really hear about it until I read the law for myself. It states that owners or tenants of private property in unincorporated areas (or folks with their permission) may discharge a firearm for target practice on those private premises. Further, “the use of such private premises for target shooting shall not be found to be in violation of a noise ordinance or declared a public or private nuisance or be otherwise prohibited under state or local law.” Ideally this law shouldn’t be necessary since you should be able to do pretty much whatever you want on your own land, but it’s a nice protection since that’s often not how it goes in modern America.
Division Fourteen sets up the effective dates. The section allowing parents to train their kids on handgun safety (Division Five) and the section keeping personal PTC information confidential (Division Six) go into effect immediately. All the rest go into effect July 1st, which is when new Iowa laws usually take effect. Division Fourteen also states that Division Six confidentiality is for nonprofessional PTC holders.
In total, HF517 can certainly be viewed as a huge win for Iowa’s gun owners. But that doesn’t mean that it has to be a loss for any other Iowan (other than maybe the occasional ruffian). So if you are someone who is morosely fretting about the sky falling from Wild West shootouts, racial genocide and toddler militias out your front door: Take heart! Your fellow Iowans are not the irresponsible, despicable, racist, pieces of human debris that you’ve been led to believe they are. Life will go on, just as it did after the “shall issue” permit law was passed, and individual Iowans are a bit freer. That’s a good thing.