A bill repealing Iowa’s gun permit requirements is advancing quickly through Iowa’s House and Senate ahead of a legislative deadline at the end of this week.
Under the new bill, known as Senate Study Bill 1232 and House Study Bill 254, Iowans could purchase and carry a firearm without applying for permits through the sheriff’s office. Federal background checks will still be required for purchases from a licensed dealer, but unlicensed transfers would require no proof of a background check.
A refresher on Iowa’s current gun permit laws
To purchase and carry a gun in Iowa today, an individual would need to:
- Apply for a permit to acquire a pistol or revolver or a permit to carry. Both applications include a background check conducted by the sheriff’s office.
- Display that permit to purchase a firearm from a federally licensed dealer or an unlicensed seller.
- Bring a permit to carry when carrying the weapon. If a law enforcement officer requests to see it, display the permit.
If the bill becomes law, both the permit to acquire and the permit to carry would become optional. An Iowan purchasing a handgun from a licensed dealer would not need to display a permit, but the individual would still need to undergo a federal background check.
However, if the individual purchases a gun from an unlicensed dealer, they would no longer need to present a permit — therefore, they would not need to present proof of a background check. Instead, the bill would change Iowa law to say that firearms may not be sold if the seller “knows or reasonably should know that the person is prohibited from receiving or possessing a firearm.”
Then, once the gun is acquired, Iowans will be allowed to carry that firearm without having or displaying a permit to do so. Advocates for the legislation said these changes reflect the idea that bearing arms is a right, rather than a privilege.
“Simply put, permitless carry merely gives law-abiding people better options for self-defense,” National Rifle Association lobbyist Scott Jones told a Senate subcommittee considering the bill.
Jones and Republican leaders on the bills predict many Iowans will still choose to apply for permits, even if they are no longer mandatory.
But opponents to the bill, including Democratic lawmakers, argued the repeal of the permit requirements would make it legal for individuals with no background check to purchase a gun from an unlicensed dealer and to carry that weapon in public.
Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, presented a hypothetical at a House committee meeting. Under the bill, she reasoned, she would be able to buy a firearm from an unlicensed seller and never undergo a background check. Then, she could carry that loaded gun with her to restaurants, to stores, to work and to the state Capitol.
“Would you agree that, under this bill, I have not broken the law?” Wessel-Kroeschell asked Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison.
“As hundred of thousands of law abiding citizens do every day in their right to keep and bear arms,” Holt said, “Correct.”
“But we don’t know if I’m a felon, a spousal abuser or a schizophrenic,” Wessel-Kroeschell concluded. “There’s been no background check.”
Holt responded that existing permit requirements do not prevent people intent on causing harm from doing so.
“Law-abiding citizens are not the problem. The Second Amendment is not the problem,” Holt said. “And a permit, a little piece of paper, is not going to stop a nutcase or a mental deviant or a bad guy from deciding they’re going to shoot something or going to kill innocent people.”
In terms of preventing people from wrongfully obtaining firearms, Holt argued that the new law could actually increase background checks. An unlicensed person who knowingly sells a firearm to someone unfit to wield one could face a class “D” felony, under the bill.
“If I don’t know the person really, really well that I’m contemplating selling the firearm to, I’m going to go to a federally licensed firearms dealer, and I’m going to say, ‘Handle this for me,’” he said. Then, that firearms dealer would need to run a background check on the buyer.
The House Judiciary committee passed the bill Tuesday by a 12-8 vote. That means the bill will stay active past Friday’s legislative funnel deadline.
The bill passed a Senate subcommittee Tuesday by a 2-1 vote.