Iowa House passes permitless carry bill after contentious debate

By: - March 18, 2021 12:25 am

A man draws his Glock .45-caliber pistol. (Photo by Getty Images)

Iowans would not need a permit to purchase or carry handguns under a bill passed by the House late Wednesday night.

House File 756 removes the requirement for an individual to obtain a permit in order to purchase a handgun. Federal background checks would be required before each purchase from a licensed seller. However, private sales do not explicitly require a background check under the bill. Instead, the legislation specifies that sellers must not sell to anyone that they “know or reasonably should know” may not purchase a firearm.

“There are no background checks eliminated in this legislation,” Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, said in floor debate on the bill. “In fact, they will increase.” 

How would House File 756 work?

To purchase and carry a handgun in Iowa today, an individual would need to get a permit from the sheriff’s office. The sheriff must run a federal background check on the individual and, if the record is clear, may issue a permit that lasts for five years.

The individual would then display that permit in order to purchase a pistol or a revolver from a federally licensed dealer or an unlicensed seller. When carrying the weapon, they would need to  display the permit if a law enforcement officer requests to see it.

Under the new bill, Iowans would not need to apply for a permit through the sheriff, although the option to get a permit will remain if a gun owner chooses to do so.

Instead, federally licensed firearms dealers would run a background check every time someone bought a gun without a permit. Holt said repeatedly that the bill would actually result in more background checks, as a permit to purchase or carry a handgun is issued for five years. If someone without a permit bought three guns from a licensed dealer, they would undergo three background checks.

However, the bill does not explicitly require that private, unlicensed sellers need to run a background check before selling a gun to an individual. Under current law, selling a handgun to someone who does not possess a permit is an aggravated misdemeanor. A seller who knows the buyer is forbidden from possessing a handgun but who sells it anyway commits a class “D” felony.

Because House File 756 removes the permit mandate, the bill changes the guidelines for private sales of a firearm. 

The bill says private sellers may not transfer a firearm to someone if they “know or reasonably should know that the other person is ineligible to possess dangerous weapons.” If a seller does sell a gun to someone that they know shouldn’t have one, that seller could be charged with a class “D” felony — that means up to 5 years in jail if convicted and a fine of up to $7,500.

That language became the center of Wednesday night’s debate. 

Bill leaders spar with Democrats over private sales

Rep. Mary Wolfe, a criminal defense attorney, said the bill would make it nearly impossible to convict someone who sells a firearm to a buyer who should not have one. If someone sold a gun to a total stranger, she reasoned, the seller would not know or “reasonably should know” anything about that person’s criminal record.

“Please, if anybody is ever charged with that or you know anybody charged with that, send them to me, because that’s going to be a real easy $2,000 for me (to defend them),” Wolfe said.

Holt said the penalty for a wrongful sale would be a sufficient deterrent. He said firearms collectors had told him that they would not sell to someone they did not know well to avoid being charged with a felony. Instead, Holt said, the bill would encourage gun owners to sell their firearms on consignment through licensed dealers, requiring the buyer to get a federal background check.

Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, said people in “the Second Amendment community” would understand that the bill requires them to be certain that their buyers are legally allowed to own firearms, or else risk losing their own guns.

“If they don’t, they are subjecting themselves to a lifetime ban of having and keeping and bearing arms,” Windschitl said in an exchange with Rep. Brian Meyer.

Meyer, D-Des Moines, pushed back: “But why didn’t you put that language in the bill?”

“Because the language is clear,” Windschitl said. “If you don’t do this, you could have a lifetime ban.”

Meyer turned his attention to Holt and asked what the language meant to him and how it would make gun sales safer. Holt responded that he and the gun sellers he spoke to had the same interpretation as Windschitl.

“I understand that you’re talking about maybe there wouldn’t be any convictions,” Holt said. “I don’t think that changes the fact that it’s a deterrent to people who read that and want to be law-abiding citizens.”

The House voted 60-37 to approve the bill. The amended version of the legislation will move to the Senate, where a companion bill has passed through committee.

House approves bill to protect gun, ammo industry from liability 

The House also passed House File 621 on Wednesday in a 60-37 vote. The bill prohibits lawsuits against manufacturers or sellers of  firearms, firearm accessories or ammunition for shooting injuries or deaths.

Holt also led floor debate on this bill. He said the legislation would protect the right to bear arms by protecting companies that are legally selling weapons.

“Backdoor attempts to destroy the Second Amendment by putting gun and ammunition manufacturers out of business through endless and costly lawsuits could make the Second Amendment a right that exists only on paper,” Holt said.

If someone tried to sue a firearm business and they lost, that individual would need to pay attorney fees and costs for the business under the bill. Democrats said the bill could discourage Iowans from suing gun manufacturers.

“This would have a chilling effect on anyone seeking damages from a corporation a corporation with deep pockets, able to hire many attorneys,” Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, said. “Why are we doing this to Iowans? Who are we trying to protect?”

The bill is similar to the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, a federal law that protects gun manufacturers from liability. President Joe Biden has promised that he will prioritize repealing the law.

In his closing statement, Holt emphasized that the firearms industry could not be liable for the way people chose to use guns.

“Using the nonsensical logic of holding gun and ammunition manufacturers accountable for the way their products are used, folks should be suing automobile manufacturers and dealerships when a drunk driver kills somebody,” Holt said.

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.