Gun reforms show how close lawmakers can get to no rules

Let’s say that during the course of your day you are approached by two people. One has a pipe with marijuana residue, the other is carrying a firearm without a permit. Which do you perceive as a greater threat to public safety?

Lawmakers, according to House Study Bill 133, believe that while both people committed the same level of offense — a simple misdemeanor — the person with drug paraphernalia should face stiffer penalties.

The pipe nets its holder up to 30 days in jail and monetary fines of up to roughly $700, which is the typical sentence for such a misdemeanor.

But an in-depth reading of HSB 133 shows that lawmakers hope to establish new sentencing guidelines for these misdemeanors when a firearm without a permit is involved.

Under the bill, the person without a permit would not be subject to jail time. The fine does increase to $1,000; however, there’s an added loophole. If the person charged brings a certificate to the clerk of court before her scheduled appearance date, the case is dismissed. The bill does not require proof the training occurred before the person went armed in public.

Day breaks Monday, Jan. 9, 2017, on the first day of the legislative session at the State Capitol in Des Moines.
Day breaks Monday, Jan. 9, 2017, on the first day of the legislative session at the State Capitol in Des Moines.

The bill also gives an explicit nod of approval to online weapons safety training. These are internet sites where people can answer a few multiple choice questions, never need touch a weapon, pay about $50 and receive certification that they’ve been trained on how to safely carry a firearm in public.

As part of an experiment, my young son, who has no experience with firearms, passed the quiz on his first try. He could have done so under my name, and I could have then taken the certificate to the county sheriff’s office and received a permit to carry. Local law enforcement has no way of knowing if the person named on the certificate is the person who completed the paltry quiz.

Iowa has a solid network of in-state instructors who offer comprehensive safety training courses, most with comparable price points. You’d think, especially since the bill requires those applying for a permit to do so only once in their lifetime, mandating only one safety course, lawmakers would understand the need for a solid foundation. Nope.

This isn’t a push to raise the bar on weapons permits. Iowa law already requires every person who applies for a permit to have proof of safety training. In the case of most members of the military and law enforcement, their on-the-job training meets this requirement. So the classes are intended for people who want to publicly carry a weapon, who may have no experience doing so. It’s an acknowledgment that not everyone has a rural background, or a parent or other adult that taught them the responsibilities and liabilities of firearm ownership.

If the state is going to mandate safety courses, shouldn’t the state also mandate curriculum for those courses? The public deserves assurance that the people carrying a firearm into city hall, the public library or the convenience store have a basic understanding of what’s in their holster. Iowa law provides no such assurances.

The bill removes sawed-off shotguns from the state’s list of offensive weapons, allows open carry at the Capitol complex, and further erodes local control by making all regulation of firearms, firearm accessories and ammunition “the exclusive domain of the state.”

If your town has prohibited weapons from the local public library, better get those paper shredders warmed up. If the ordinances aren’t scrapped, the bill allows those “adversely affected” to sue.

It ends the state practice of issuing annual permits for purchase of pistols and revolvers, which was established to meet federal requirements. The newly minted lifetime permits will now serve that purpose, and it will be up to the dealer to determine if a background check is also needed to comply with federal law. Elimination of the annual permits to acquire also removes coinciding annual criminal background checks.

It enacts “stand your ground” language that protects people who shoot first and ask questions later. Under the bill, people can shoot others they perceive as threatening — threatening to themselves, or to third parties. I don’t even want to consider the legal ramifications of this law in connection with those who view abortion as murder.

Being intoxicated or using controlled substances while carrying no longer results in losing a permit. Under this bill, the offense becomes a serious misdemeanor to be intoxicated (drugs or alcohol) while carrying a dangerous weapon or having one within reach while in a vehicle. And doing same while on your personal or commercial property, or anywhere while defending yourself, is completely exempt.

Iowans will be required to welcome visitors carrying here so long as they are legally allowed to carry in their home states, even if their home state has fewer restrictions or no restrictions at all.

And, finally, Iowans will be blindfolded and denied access to permit information under open records laws. While statistical data may continue to be available, county sheriffs are prohibited from releasing personally identifiable information. Domestic violence and other crime victims now keeping tabs on their abusers will need to obtain a court order or seek permission from their attacker to remain informed.

The good news, for those preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse, is that the bill prohibits state and local officials, even in times of natural disaster or other catastrophic emergency, to “prohibit, regulate or curtail” firearms or to suspend or revoke a permit to carry.

Don’t have a permit and zombies are shuffling down your street? No worries. If you’re free from marijuana residue, you can simply take the online safety quiz later. Good hunting.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on February 26, 2017.