The good news is, an important public safety bill went to Governor Chet Culver’s desk on March 11. Senate File 2357 was one of Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller’s legislative priorities this year. The bill prohibits Iowans from owning guns and ammunition if they have been convicted of a domestic violence crime or are subject to a protective order. Since 1995, 205 Iowans have been killed in domestic violence incidents; that figure represents nearly one-third of all murders recorded in Iowa during that period. Miller has also pointed out that firearms caused 111 of the 205 Iowa deaths in domestic abuse murders since 1995. Moreover, firearms were involved in nearly two-thirds of Iowa’s domestic violence deaths in 2007 and 2008. Records show 46 of the 205 Iowans killed in domestic abuse murders since 1995 have been bystanders. It’s easier to kill a bystander with a gun than with a knife or other weapon.
Federal law already bans those convicted of domestic violence or subject to a protective order from owning a gun. However, the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence has noted,
We need additional state law so that local law enforcement officers have the legal authority help enforce the firearm ban. Without additional state law there are only two ATF agents in the entire state who can act to enforce the federal law […] Without local law enforcement involved abusers will not and are not abiding by the federal firearms ban.
Various law enforcement entities backed SF 2357, but most Republicans in the Iowa legislature didn’t cooperate with this effort to address a major violent crime problem. While Republicans were unable to defeat the bill, their votes on the Senate and House floor showed more deference to extremist gun advocates than to the potential victims of domestic abusers.
Eleven of the 18 Iowa Senate Republicans voted against SF 2357 when the upper chamber approved it on February 25, and a twelfth Republican joined them when the Senate considered an amended version on March 11. Roll calls can be found in pdf files for the Senate Journal on those dates. Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley and third-district Congressional candidate Brad Zaun were among the Republicans who voted no.
The March 10 Iowa House debate on SF 2357 exposed even more disturbing aspects of Republican “family values.” House Republicans voted unanimously to inject the same-sex marriage debate into this unrelated bill.
Then they voted unanimously to add a provision that might deter victims from seeking a protective order.
Then all but one of them voted to help domestic abusers get their guns back more quickly.
Then they unanimously supported language to give abuse victims access to self-defense courses, as if that’s the real solution to the domestic violence problem.
Then more than half the Republican caucus voted against the final bill.
The gory details can be found here; highlights are after the jump.
My own State Representative Chris Hagenow got the ball rolling for Republicans with this amendment to define "spouse" for the purposes of this bill as "a spouse of a marriage that is valid pursuant to chapter 595 [of the Iowa Code]." That’s the chapter that defined marriage as between one man and one woman. Democratic State Representative Rick Olson pointed out that the Iowa Supreme Court struck down this provision last year. House Speaker Pat Murphy agreed with Olson’s point of order, ruling Hagenow’s amendment not germane. Hagenow then tried to suspend the House rules in order to get a vote on his amendment (in so doing get the chamber on record regarding the definition of marriage). His motion to suspend the rules failed on a 53-41 vote. Every Republican present voted for Hagenow’s motion, joined by only one Democrat, Dolores Mertz. (Yes, I am glad she is retiring this year.)
Speaking to Jason Clayworth of the Des Moines Register,
Hagenow, after the vote, said his intention was to push the legislature to address the issue rather than deny same-sex couples protection from domestic abuse. Same-sex couples would still be protected from being assaulted, he said.
“I think it was just an attempt to reaffirm that” Iowa law “is still on the books and the legislature has still neglected to address the issue,” Hagenow said.
Under the bill, an assault is between separated spouses or people divorced from each other and not residing together at the time of the assault. Hagenow’s amendment would have defined spouse under the section of law the Iowa Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional.
Domestic assaults carry greater penalties than many other assault charges, which is why the definition is important. Victim advocates have noted that, occasionally, unmarried peole in relationships involved in physical disputes are charged under lesser charges.
Hagenow’s explanation taught me two things: first, he and all of his House Republican colleagues need a remedial lesson on the judicial review concept. I wonder if Hagenow also thinks Washington, DC’s gun control law is “still on the books” even though the U.S. Supreme Court struck most of it down in 2008. Sorry, no: a law loses legal force once the Supreme Court has found it to be unconstitutional.
Second, Hagenow and his fellow House Republicans are so eager to score political points on the marriage issue that they would be willing to let same-sex abusers be charged with lesser crimes than domestic assaults. Sounds to me like they advocate “special rights” for same-sex domestic abusers!
After Hagenow’s effort failed, Republican State Representative Matt Windschitl stepped up with an amendment to replace the whole text of the bill with provisions that would give abuse victims the opportunity to take self-defense courses. A new “Domestic abuse assault fund” would pay for the courses. To sweeten the deal for eligible victims, Windschitl’s amendment would let them acquire certificates showing that they had completed the self-defense courses. They could use the certificates to apply for sales tax refunds on “purchases [of] self-defense items and firearms made by the participant within ninety days from the issuance of the certificate.”
This amendment merits adding Windschitl to any list of the most clueless Iowa legislators. News flash: abusers try to control their victims’ lives. I doubt any person convicted of a domestic violence crime would allow a partner to take self-defense classes. I also doubt that victims who are trying to escape their abusers will find it easy to attend a series of self-defense classes. Not that there’s anything wrong with learning to defend yourself, but what do you think would make victims feel safer: knowing guns would be taken away from the person they sought a restraining order against, or knowing they could complete a series of classes and then apply for a sales tax refund on a gun of their own?
Domestic abusers and sex offenders are among the most difficult to reform, said Ray Zirkelbach, D-Monteicello who teaches inmates in Iowa’s prison system. He told his peers it was sad that Windschitl’s amendment was even being considered.
“These are little, little people and, no, they should not have their Second Amendment rights to have their damn guns back,” Zirkelbach said about domestic abusers.
The Iowa House deferred consideration of Windschitl’s amendment until later in the day. Meanwhile, State Representative Jodi Tymeson offered an amendment imposing new penalties on some people whose actions cause another person to lose guns and ammunition:
Except as provided in paragraph “c”, a person
1 13 who knowingly provides false or misleading information
1 14 in order to procure a protective order referred to
1 15 in this subsection shall, in addition to any other
1 16 penalty, be guilty of harassment pursuant to section
1 17 708.7.
1 18 c. A person who knowingly provides false or
1 19 misleading information in order to procure a protective
1 20 order referred to in this subsection that results in
1 21 the deprivation of a firearm, offensive weapon, or
1 22 ammunition necessary for the person who is the subject
1 23 of the protective order to maintain the person’s
1 24 livelihood and the person providing such false or
1 25 misleading information could have reasonably foreseen
1 26 the loss of the other person’s livelihood shall,
1 27 in addition to any other penalty, be guilty of a
1 28 fraudulent practice in the first degree as defined in
1 29 section 714.9.>
When the Iowa Senate considered this bill, Republican Dave Hartsuch offered a similar amendment. Republicans seem to think that frivolous attempts to obtain protective orders are a bigger problem than domestic abusers owning guns. Has any Iowan been killed by someone who wrongfully obtained a protective order?
All Republicans who were present voted for Tymeson’s amendment, but it failed because the 52 Democrats present all voted against it.
“Most clueless” contender Duane Alons then offered an amendment to give domestic abusers their gun rights back one year after they completed any prison term or parole sentence, or one year after any no contact order expired. That amendment also failed, but 43 of the 44 House Republicans voted for it. (Linda Miller was the only Republican to vote against this amendment, and Kerry Burt was the only Democrat to support it.)
The last amendment considered before the final vote on passage was Windschitl’s self-defense class proposal. This time he offered it in addition to the rest of the bill, rather than in place of the restrictions on gun ownership. Still, it failed on a party-line vote.
In the final vote, 19 House Republicans joined all of the Democrats to pass SF 2357. Yet the majority of the GOP caucus (25 members) voted against this bill. The roll call can be found in the House Journal for March 10. House Minority Leader Kraig Paulsen was one of the no voters.
Who were Iowa Republicans representing when they voted against this bill, or voted for it only after trying to gut it with Windschitl’s amendment? The lobbyist declarations for SF 2357 show broad support, including various law enforcement groups, public entities, and organizations representing social workers and domestic violence victims. Even the National Rifle Association was registered “undecided” on the bill. However, lobbyists for Iowa Gun Owners and Iowa Sportsman Members registered against the bill.
Republicans would rather let domestic abusers keep their guns and ammunition than address an important threat to public safety. Remember, domestic abuse-related murders make up a significant percentage of murders in Iowa, and a large share of those domestic abuse-related murders are carried out with firearms. Next time Republicans claim to be tough on crime, ask them why their party cares more about abusers’ gun rights than about protecting the objects of their abuse as well as bystanders.
UPDATE: It’s worth noting that there are plenty of pro-gun Democrats in the Iowa House and Senate. Every one of them saw the wisdom behind SF 2357. Only in the Republican Party do politicians believe that abusers’ gun rights are more important than protecting victims.