U.S. House, Iowa lawmakers move in opposite directions on guns

This week the U.S. House approved the most significant regulations on gun sales to pass the lower chamber of Congress in 25 years.

Meanwhile, Republicans in the Iowa legislature advanced a constitutional amendment that could invalidate nearly every state-level restriction on firearms ownership or sales.

STRONGER BACKGROUND CHECKS CLEAR U.S. HOUSE

H.R. 8, the “Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019″, would close what is commonly known as the “gun show loophole.” It would require background checks for all firearm sales, including those occurring online or at events outside traditional gun shops.

Representatives Abby Finkenauer (IA-01), Dave Loebsack (IA-02), and Cindy Axne (IA-03) were among the 232 Democrats supporting the bill on February 27, joined by eight Republicans (roll call). Representative Steve King (IA-04) and the rest of the GOP caucus voted against universal background checks. Only two House Democrats opposed the bill–a huge contrast to the 77 Democratic defections during the 1994 House vote on an assault weapons ban.

In a written statement on February 27, Finkenauer said,

“It’s long past time Congress came together to pass a bipartisan bill addressing gun violence. I’ve heard from Iowans across my district who want to be able to go hunting on the weekend, and Monday send their kids to school without worrying they’ll make it home safely. I’m proud to have joined Republicans and Democrats in voting for HR 8, common sense background check legislation that’s long overdue.”

The legislation ensures the same standards that already apply to licensed sellers are met by unlicensed sellers too, requiring background checks with exceptions for family members and others. Background checks allow law enforcement to prevent convicted felons and domestic abusers from purchasing guns.

Axne and Loebsack didn’t release statements on this week’s vote, but both have long been on record supporting universal background checks.

U.S. House leaders brought another gun-related bill to the floor on February 28. The Enhanced Background Checks Act (H.R. 1112)

would extend the window for completing a background check for gun purchases and transfers to at least 10 business days, after a heated floor debate in which two lawmakers spoke passionately about their personal experiences with domestic violence. […]

The bill aims to close the “Charleston loophole,” a reference to the 2015 killings of nine black parishioners at a South Carolina church. The gunman was able to purchase the weapons after a three-day federal background check failed to turn up a prior conviction.

All but seven House Democrats supported this bill, including Finkenauer, Loebsack, and Axne (roll call). King and most Republicans opposed it.

House Democrats did not attempt to pass any significant gun control during 2009 or 2010, when the party controlled both chambers of Congress and Barack Obama was president.

“[N]ot only did nothing happen, but it wasn’t even on the table,” said Peter Ambler, executive director of Giffords, the gun violence prevention advocacy organization founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz. “We had collectively, politically as a country said, ‘We’re not going to address this. The opposition is just too powerful.’”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has long supported stronger gun regulations. Why didn’t she bring similar bills to a vote ten years ago? The Democratic majority of the early 1990s and 2007-2010 relied on many House members “from rural, blue-collar and Southern districts.” But Republicans landslides in 1994, 2010, and 2014 greatly reduced Democratic representation of such areas. Suburban and urban voters delivered the new House majority. Those groups are more likely to support regulations on gun sales and safety.

An unusual procedural vote during House debate on the first background checks bill points to the challenges facing Democrats from competitive districts. House rules allow the minority party to offer a “motion to recommit with instructions,” a kind of last-ditch effort to amend legislation before the vote on final passage. Typically those motions go down along party lines. But the February 26 Republican motion passed thanks to 26 Democrats, including Axne and Finkenauer (roll call).

Rebekah Entralgo reported for Think Progress that the motion “would require the federal background check database to notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when an undocumented immigrant tries to buy a gun.”

These measures are often conducted in good faith, but have a small impact on the overall sale of firearms and frequently violate the civil liberties of marginalized communities.

I sought comment from Axne and Finkenauer about the thought process on this vote and will update this post if I receive any information on the record.

Often, Democrats voting for Republican amendments are trying to protect themselves against future attacks. GOP-aligned groups ran numerous television commercials in 2018 trying to link Democratic candidates around the country with illegal immigration.

Mike DeBonis reported for the Washington Post on a contentious closed-door meeting of the House caucus on February 28. First-term superstar Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez delivered a warning:

“She said that when activists ask her why she had to vote for a gun safety bill that also further empowers an agency that forcibly injects kids with psychotropic drugs, they’re going to want a list of names and she’s going to give it to them,” [her spokesperson Corbin] Trent said, referring to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Triggering the blowup were Wednesday’s votes on a bill to expand federal background checks for gun purchases. Twenty-six moderate Democrats joined Republicans in amending the legislation, adding a provision requiring that ICE be notified if an illegal immigrant seeks to purchase a gun. […]

The Democratic infighting reflects a fractured caucus and diverse freshman class, with dozens of moderates elected in districts that President Trump won in 2016 at odds with hard-charging liberals. […]

Inside the Democratic meeting, one of those freshmen — Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (N.M.) — reacted sharply to Ocasio-Cortez’s comments and rose to urge her colleagues to respect the political reality of representing a swing district, according to multiple people present.

According to DeBonis, some Democrats want to change House rules on motions to recommit. Earlier in February, Republicans were able to get a similar motion approved nearly unanimously before the House passed a resolution directing the president to remove U.S. military forces from Yemen within 30 days. That vote was “the first time since May 2010 that a motion to recommit has succeeded,” Sarah Ferris and Heather Caygle reported for Politico.

Its substance (a denunciation of anti-Semitism) seemed innocuous. However, the maneuver torpedoed the legislation in the U.S. Senate, Politico’s Andrew Desiderio reported on February 25.

A House-passed bill to halt U.S. involvement in Yemen’s deadly civil war will not get a vote in the Senate, a setback to Democrats and Republicans who sought to cut off U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

The Senate parliamentarian ruled that an amendment to the House-passed bill which contains language condemning anti-Semitism was not “germane” to the Yemen War Powers resolution — a decision that allows Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to block a vote on the measure. The legislation initially had “privileged” status, giving supporters an end run around McConnell, who has long opposed the effort.

Bleeding Heartland will keep an eye on how the Iowans vote on significant amendments as well as on final passage of major legislation in the U.S. House or Senate.

IOWA REPUBLICANS MOVE AHEAD WITH CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT

Back in Des Moines, Republican lawmakers are advancing a state constitutional amendment on gun rights. The Iowa House and Senate approved the same measure in 2018, mostly along party lines. But a screw-up by Secretary of State Paul Pate sent that constitutional amendment “back to square one.” Now lawmakers must approve the language in this legislative session and identical language after the 2020 elections in order to put the proposal on a statewide ballot in 2022.

The amendment would add the following language to Article I of Iowa’s constitution:

Sec. 1A. Right to keep and bear arms. The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The sovereign state of Iowa affirms and recognizes this right to be a fundamental individual right. Any and all restrictions of this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny.

By mentioning a “fundamental” right and “strict scrutiny,” this amendment would force Iowa courts to apply the highest standard when evaluating gun regulations in future litigation. In some cases, courts will uphold a law if the government can show it has a “rational basis” for limiting citizens’ actions. Under strict scrutiny, restrictions on fundamental constitutional rights are allowed only if the state can show the law is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling public interest. Whether current Iowa laws such as concealed carry permitting rules could survive strict scrutiny is an open question.

The amendment is eligible for debate in both chambers. The Iowa Senate Judiciary Committee approved it on February 21, on a party-line vote. The House Judiciary Committee passed the same language on February 25. Unfortunately, House Journals do not include roll calls for committee votes.

Final note: the latest Iowa poll by Selzer & Co for the Des Moines Register and Mediacom found,

Fifty-six percent of respondents favor the proposed state constitutional amendment ensuring Iowans the right to firearms. Thirty-nine percent of respondents oppose the measure, which would make Iowa the latest of 45 states to add such language to its constitution. Five percent are not sure.

The measure, which would result in fewer restrictions on guns, has heavy support from Iowans who expect to vote for Donald Trump in 2020 (84 percent), Republicans (75 percent), those who live in rural communities (71 percent) and men (69 percent). Three groups each register 65 percent support: evangelicals, those with a high school education or less, and residents of the rural, heavily Republican 4th Congressional District, which encompasses northwestern and north central Iowa.

The poll of 803 Iowa adults was conducted Feb. 10-13 by Selzer & Co. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Question wording is important. This survey asked respondents whether they favor or oppose an initiative to “Amend the Iowa Constitution to add the right to keep and bear arms, which would result in fewer restrictions on guns.”

Democrats in the state House and Senate offered amendments last year to add language mirroring the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to Iowa’s founding document. Republican lawmakers aren’t satisfied with establishing a right to keep and bear arms. Rather, they insist on expansive language that would invalidate almost any regulation. I’d like to see a poll asking Iowans if they favor abolishing all concealed carry permits or forcing private property owners to allow every kind of gun on their premises.

  • Traps Can Bite

    Before Reps. Axne and Finkenauer start piling up votes that can be used to “prove” that they are not progressive Democrats, someone needs to school them on how these traps work and how to avoid them.

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