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Johnson County Democratic lawmakers protest against gun-rights bill in Des Moines

BY CHASTITY DILLARD | MARCH 01, 2012 6:30 AM

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Two local lawmakers were among Democrats who harshly criticized Republicans for two gun bills that passed the Iowa House on Wednesday night.

House Republicans passed the two bills — one amending the state's Constitution to guarantee the right to bear arms, the other allowing Iowans to use lethal force against an individual or individuals deemed as threats.

The Constitutional amendment, House Joint Resolution 2009, passed the House, 61-37, and the reasonable-force bill, House File 2215, passed, 60-38.

Before legislators debated the bills, House Democrats protested the discussion by moving their caucus to a location outside the Statehouse.

Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, said the "walkout" was partially in protest to the extreme gun-rights bills.

"These bills that we are considering just squeezed out of funnel week last week," he said prior to the bills' passage. "[The bills] have not had nearly enough time to be vetted for debate on the floor. It's purely a political move for them to put on the table today."

But the Des Moines Register reported a House spokeswoman said one Democrat had proposed an amendment to one of the gun bills, suggesting, contrary to Democrats' critique, there was enough time for changes to be submitted.

And advocates say the issue had seen plenty of mulling already.

"This issue has been debated in the Legislature and the public in 2011 and 2012," said Jeff Burkett, president of the Iowa Firearms Coalition. "There has been a lot of talk on it, and there is no reason to not have it go to floor for debate and take a vote on it."

Burkett said the group was disappointed to see politics interfere with what they believe to be Iowans' fundamental rights.

Before the bills passed Wednesday night, Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, said the bills' extremist agendas were offensive.

"When we started this session, they told us this year would be focused on jobs and economy," she said, noting issues with state Board of Regents' schools being underfunded and preK-12 issues. "So when we are looking at the issues before us and what we should be focused on, it's unconscionable. We want to make that point and let people know this extreme agenda is going on."

Chris Larimer, a University of Northern Iowa associate professor of political science, said gun-rights issues aren't really on the radar for Iowans.

"The majority of Iowans review gun regulations as fine as they are or maybe a slight few changes for the current regulations," said Larimer, who has taught a class on Iowa politics. "I think the No. 1 issue for Iowans, like most of the U.S., is jobs and economy and specifically in Iowa — education and property taxes."

Larimer said he was surprised to see these bills get this much attention, given last year's long session.
But Rep. Erik Helland, R-Johnston, said the way the Democrats handled the situation was unheard of in the past.

"We didn't take an oath to take an easy vote," he said, and he contended the walkout hurts the voters. "When an entire caucus leaves simply because they don't want to vote on a bill, it's very disappointing."

Helland said Republicans just want to give Iowans a voice.

"The Iowa Constitution does not have language protecting gun rights," he said. "I think that the Constitution should support and lay out gun rights for Iowans, and, more importantly, Iowans should have the vote."

But Jacoby said he is ready for the fight.

"I'm not afraid of taking on an issue," he said. "I'm just disappointed that our House Republicans made a decision not to focus on university funding but rather gun rights and other issues. It just shows that the far right has hoodwinked the priorities of our state … and is instead arguing about a radical Constitution-changing gun bill."


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