DES MOINES — Legislation to eliminate the requirement that Iowans get a “permission slip” from the government to buy a handgun would actually result in more background checks regardless where the weapon is purchased, proponents of a “constitutional carry” measure asserted Wednesday.

House File 756, approved 60-37 with Rep. Wes Breckenridge of Newton the only Democrat to join Republicans in favor, is part of an agenda that long has been a goal for gun rights advocates and “freedom-loving Iowans,” according to Judiciary Committee Chair Steve Holt, R-Denison.

By increasing their Iowa House majority to 59-41 in the 2020 election, Republicans had the votes this session to easily pass the measure.

“Democrats support the Second Amendment,” Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, said. However, she argued that the bill would weaken Iowa’s current background check system that has blocked nearly 15,000 illegal sales between 1998 and 2019.

Background checks “keep firearms out of the hands of felons, domestic abusers and those who have serious mental health disorder,” she said. Repealing Iowa’s background check law and the permitting requirement for carrying a concealed gun is “extreme, it is unpopular and it is a threat to public safety,” Wessel-Kroeschell said.

But Holt called her criticism “utterly inaccurate.” Instead, he said, the measure would “absolutely increase background checks.”

“No background checks are eliminated … or I wouldn’t be supporting it,” he said and predicted it would “absolutely increase background checks.”

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Everytown for Gun Safety rejected that, saying the bill will create a loophole making it easy for felons, domestic abusers, and other people prohibited from having guns to avoid background checks.

“The claim that this bill would not eliminate background checks is completely false,” said Luke Entelis, Everytown’s counsel. “This legislation would repeal the current state law that requires a permit — and therefore a background check — in order to buy a handgun from an unlicensed seller.”

HF 756, Everytown’s sister organization Moms Demand Action said, would make it easy and legal for felons, domestic abusers and people prohibited based on the basis of mental illnesses — including people with dangerous histories — to carry hidden, loaded handguns in public in Iowa without a permit or safety training.

The bill recognizes the constitutional right to keep and bear arms and, according to the Iowa Firearms Coalition, one of three groups backing the proposal, means Iowa will “no longer treat the free exercise of this basic right as a mere privilege.”

The beneficiaries of the bill would be woman fleeing an abusive partner or the victim of a dangerous stalker “who needs to arm themselves now” because they won’t have to “wait for a government permission slip,” the firearms coalition said.

But calling it “constitutional carry” doesn’t make the bill constitutional, University of Iowa constitutional law professor Rep. Christina Bohannan said.

“You can call this bill ‘constitutional carry’ all you want, but the Constitution doesn’t carry this bill,” the Iowa City Democrat said, referring to U.S. Supreme Court rulings that states can place restrictions on the Second Amendment.

“What this shows is that with every passing year, pro-gun laws in Iowa are becoming more and more extreme,” Bohannan said. “Common sense gun safety legislation supported by overwhelming majority of Iowans is going away.”

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Removing the requirement to get a state permit to carry a concealed weapon jeopardizes safety training sessions for gun owners, said Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton. That rule “ensures that everybody carrying a firearm in Iowa has at least a rudimentary knowledge of our laws surrounding self-defense and basic gun safety and that is a good thing.”

The Iowa Senate could take up the issue as soon as Thursday. Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, recently told a radio audience that Republicans have the votes to pass its version, Senate File 535, and the governor is “excited” to sign it.

Gov. Kim Reynolds refused to support permitless carry in 2019. She called the background check for a permit to carry, which she had voted for as a state senator in 2010, “good policy and the right thing to do.”

Her office did not respond to a question about her intentions about HF 756.

The House also approved HF 621 60-37 to prohibit individuals from bringing legal action against a firearm manufacturers and dealers for damages resulting from a third-party’s criminal or unlawful use of a firearm. They still could be sued for breach of warranty, damage caused by a defective firearm and injunctive relief to enforce a valid statute.

The bill would require courts to dismiss any claim with conclusive evidence that the action is groundless and award the defendant reasonable attorney costs incurred while defending the claim.

All Republicans and one Democrat, Rep. Timi Brown-Powers of Waterloo, supported the bill.

What’s in the bill?

House File 756 would modify various Iowa Code sections on acquiring and possessing weapons. The major modifications include:

• Requiring only unlicensed individuals to have a valid permit or complete a national background check when acquiring a pistol or revolver from a federally licensed dealer;

• Removes requirement that individuals must display a permit to carry, upon request, while on Capitol grounds;

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• Removes the aggravated misdemeanor penalty for a person who is armed and uses a knife in the commission of a crime;

• Amends “carrying weapons on school grounds” code chapter (724.4B) to allow peace officers to carry firearms on school property and to allow lawful carrying of unloaded firearms in a common carrier as long as the firearm is securely wrapped or inside a closed and fastened container;

• Strikes permit to carry weapons code chapter and replaces with language that would make permits optional;

• Allows emergency medical care providers to obtain a professional permit to carry under certain circumstances;

• Requires the Department of Public Safety to approve additional handgun training instructor certification organizations; maintain a list on its website; and provide public information relating to weapon carry permits, firearm safety and training opportunities;

• Prohibits political subdivisions from enacting any measure that regulates lawful carrying of firearms, firearms attachments or other weapons;

• Prohibits rental agreements under certain federal programs from including provisions that restrict tenant’s lawful firearm possession within a “dwelling unit”;

• Provides landlords immunity from civil actions relating to firearms being on the property except in willful, reckless or gross negligence cases;

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• Clarifies that tenants storing or possessing firearms in a dwelling unit does not constitute a clear and present danger;

• Allows tenants to recover actual damages and reasonable attorney fees from a landlord if an agreement’s provisions are prohibited by this bill.

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