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Iowa Lawmakers Advance A Bill That Puts Limits On Local Gun Regulations

Iowa Capitol
John Pemble
IPR file

An Iowa House subcommittee passed a bill (HSB 615) Monday that would prohibit local ordinances from being stricter than state law for gun accessories such as high capacity magazines.

The wide-ranging proposal also states that if local governments ban weapons at public buildings, they must also provide screening and armed security.

“The point is that putting up a no-gun sign has no effect on bad people,” said Richard Rogers of the Iowa Firearms Coalition who supports the bill. “It does affect the good people: their ability to defend themselves.”

Opponents at the meeting such as Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, said requiring additional security could be cost prohibitive in some communities and that the proposal strips local governments of any input on gun safety.

“I have a large university in my community, which makes it very unique from, say, Des Moines, which has different obstacles in their way in terms of public safety, or as opposed to a smaller town,” Wessel-Kroeschell said. “I think we need to give some control to our local communities where they make those decisions.”

The bill would effectively block local gun control efforts such as a proposal in Des Moines to ban high capacity magazines and rapid-fire bump stocks, which ultimately was withdrawn.

Under another section of the bill, local zoning boards and city councils would be limited by state code when siting and regulating gun ranges. But Jim Obradovich, a lobbyist for the County Zoning Officials Organization, told lawmakers that presents a problem because there are no state laws for shooting ranges.

“Anything dealing with its location next to schools, hospitals, cemeteries, anything dealing with setbacks, all of those things if this bill went as written would not be allowed to be dealt with,” Obradovich said.       

Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, said amendments will be added to address those concerns. He said the goal behind the proposal is to ensure zoning boards treat gun range owners fairly.

A final section of the bill would codify an agreement between the legislature and judiciary. It allows judges to ban weapons only in courtrooms, not in other public areas of courthouses. Holt said the proposals taken together protect public safety by allowing guns in more public areas.

“A couple people made statements that nothing in this bill is about the health and safety of Iowans. That’s not true,” Holt said. “I happen to believe that gun-free zones is an invitation to crazy people because nobody that has ever done a mass shooting has obeyed the law.”

Gun control advocates held rallies at the Iowa Capitol Monday to protest legislative proposals expanding concealed carry laws and limiting local regulatory control. Scott Peterson, interim executive director of Iowans for Gun Safety, said it takes training to assess an active shooter situation.

"Law enforcement and military, the last thing if there's a shooting or a hot situation, the last thing they want is for people to start pulling out guns and shooting," Peterson said.

Seventeen-year-old Ellie Miglin, a student at Des Moines Roosevelt High School, said she believes attitudes toward guns are changing. “My generation does not have the same joyful memory of guns because guns and how they’re used have changed,” she said.

The bill restricting local gun regulations passed in subcommittee by a vote of 2-1 and now goes before the full House Public Safety Committee.

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa