Iowa has become the 19th state in this great nation to embrace and codify Constitutional Carry into their state law. If you’re only interested in a headline, the first sentence in this article will serve. If you’re interested in the truth, and a really good story I might add, then you should remain engaged. …And if you were on the fence, the answer to the question of whether or not you’re interested in the truth should always be a resounding, “YES,” no matter what.
I can’t offer you the perspective of many, but as someone who has been in this fight before there was a formal declaration, I’m in a unique position to give it all to you – not just the birth of this beautiful bouncy baby, but the growth of Iowans who united to form a union and created this new life. I can also relay to you all, that I’m clearly biased and proud of it in this case.
For me, this started back in 2002. I drove to my local sheriff’s office as a young man recently married and asked the nice lady in the lobby for an application for the permit to carry. At that time permits to carry weapons were ‘May Issue’ only. The resonance of Jim Crow was still very much thick in the air in Iowa and sheriffs exercised discretion over those they claimed to serve. Each of us living between two big rivers was at the mercy of a local sheriff, his beliefs, predilections, and party affiliation. For each of those was a determining factor as to the outcome of our applications, rather than the demonstrated responsibilities we’d shown our family, friends, neighbors, and fellow Iowans as upstanding citizens.
I was turned away immediately and the nice lady simply said, “Don’t bother turning one in, the sheriff doesn’t issue permits…” At that time, I was young, none too callused by life’s iniquities, and a little wet behind the ears. It was one of the few times in life that I left someplace with my head down in shame. Each year on my birthday I went back to apply again. Each year I was met by the same nice lady with the same reply. The repetition was so similar it may as well have been a recording replayed annually. Everything was the same except for my ire. With each year I changed. My response transmogrified from shame to anger and then manifested itself in sheer determination.
In 2006, I left the lobby again being told to pound sand. The was no shame this time. I now had contracted a serious case of what I call “butt hurt” and was really miffed. I immediately called my local Senator and left a message.
The Iowa legislature convenes annually but for a short period of time, January through April in most cases. I’ve got a January birthday, so the session was just heating up. My Senator, Dennis Black (D), who was an NRA Defender of Freedom Award winner, called me back shortly and proceeded to read me the riot act. He had called my sheriff and they had spoken about me specifically on speakerphone with other legislators. I remember it as if it were yesterday when Senator Black said, “I’ve spoken with Sheriff Balmer, and he has no record whatsoever on file for a permit denial for a ‘Michael Ware’ anywhere. Are you being honest with this body?”
That question from my Senator was the catalyst for my turning. Raised as a rural Iowa Christian kid to a mother that was a high school business teacher, and a father who ran a small electrical business, I’d faced some pretty serious consequences for speaking out of turn. But, I couldn’t help it and blurted out what came next without thinking. I responded, “Am I lying? I’m the only person here NOT lying to myself or others about this farce of a permit system. Of course, Sheriff Balmer wouldn’t have a denied permit on file. It’s called a ‘counter denial’ these days here in Iowa. We’re not even given the respect we’re owed to even fill out an application, much less get denied. Murderers released from prison, illegal aliens, and general-purpose scumbags can all fill out a permit application. Sure, they’ll be denied, but everyone is afforded the ability to put in an application. But not in the county I live and from what I’m learning many others like it. Do you really want to know what the problem here is? Sheriffs all over Iowa are treating their counties like their own little castles. There are 99 of them, and each governs his subjects differently. You need to get on the right side of this and correct this problem, and I have an expectation as a constituent that you will. No, to answer you’re question, I’m not lying.”
I would have never spoken like that to a person of perceived authority before in my life, but I had changed. I had been transformed by my experiences and I would never be the same. My phone conversation ended with the Senator and about two hours later my sheriff gave me a call. He wanted to set down and talk sometime. I immediately dropped what I was doing, drove to the office, and waited in the lobby. It would take an entire article to convey the Jackson Pollock works on canvas that ensued between him and me behind closed doors. Suffice it to say, it was a mess. Neither of us backed down. I left an application with the money for the permit and expected to get a denial letter in the mail.
Instead, I was called to come to pick up my permit. I was pretty fired up at this point. It was as if I were awakened to something, I’d never truly been able to embrace prior. There was some very remote possibility that I could have simply walked away with my permit and never re-engaged on the issue, but when I was handed the permit, it was basically put across to me that I had my permit and I should stop making trouble now. I thought about that entire debacle the whole drive home. If a person like me with the gift of gab and little gumption had to go through what I did to get a permission slip to carry a self-defense tool, would my family, friends, and neighbors ever accomplish this seemingly insurmountable task? That answer was likely to be NO and I knew this needed to change. I searched and found a small group, then called Iowa Carry, which had been formed with the expressed purpose of changing Iowa from ‘May Issue’ to ‘Shall Issue’ permittance.
I began like most of my colleagues by working a table for Iowa Carry at gun shows to spread the word, communicate, and build membership with a purpose. I rose through the ranks of the organization, and we caught the attention of the NRA. Together Iowa Carry and NRA-ILA shaped and passed SF2379 in early 2010. Most people wouldn’t believe it today, but it was a Democrat trifecta in Iowa at that time – Democrat-controlled House, Senate, and Governor. They passed what became the nation’s golden standard permit language. Iowa’s permit was a ‘permit to carry weapons’ in the literal sense. Open carry, concealed carry, long gun, handgun, etc., it was all covered. You even had the choice to take the style and content of the training you preferred rather than some arbitrary ‘minimum standard’ imposed by law. Iowa’s law isn’t bloated with tons of things you can’t do and places you can’t go. We had accomplished a monumental task.
Iowa Carry had been focused on one tiny aspect of 2A advocacy. So, a logical question before us loomed pretty largely in the mirror. Do we stop or continue? The membership wanted us to move forward. We rebadged and renamed it into the Iowa Firearms Coalition.
The die was cast and the collaborations began. Along with Shall Issue, we had also passed a repeal of the loaded magazine ban. That was HF2200 – if you can believe it Iowa considered a loaded magazine to be a loaded weapon. We were darned glad to have that silliness ended. We began forming relationships with not only legislators but other like-minded groups. Our relationship with NRA was blossoming and there were no shortages of ideas on what to move forward with. I can remember an early meeting including Constitutional Carry. We took that very seriously, but we all agreed there were some pretty serious concerns with passing legislation like that. I recall describing Constitutional Carry as the slate tile roof over a sturdy house with 2×8 walls and a firm foundation. The truth was, our foundation wasn’t built yet, much less the thick walls, energy-efficient doors, and windows, etc. We had work to do before we could make that move. Iowa is one of only six states in the nation without an individual expressed Right to Keep and Bear Arms amendment or inclusion in our State Constitution. We had plenty ahead of us.
Partnered with NRA and an energetic State Liaison, we passed SF464 which made hunting mourning doves legal. We were the last state in the Midwest to embrace legalizing eating these tasty little morsels. That same year, 2011, we streamlined and improved communication with the NICS Improvement Act, SF456. We came back in 2012 and nearly won the battle to repeal an Administrative Ban on Lead Ammo. Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources recommended a lead ban on ammo, it was implemented, but our voices to Governor Terry Branstad ultimately prevailed and the executive office overturned the lead ban we couldn’t get the legislature to back.
We fought off continual attempts to roll back Shall Issue, and still fight them today by the way, along with an endless supply of magazine bans, universal background checks, and bans of all shapes and sizes many of which are still inspired by Jim Crow Laws. Among the victories were bills like the ATV Carry Act, SF2283, since the Iowa DNR had banned Iowans from having a loaded weapon on any kind of outdoor vehicle. The American Suppressor Association had become a partner for a number of years, and they were a tremendous resource and great organization to work with. Together, ASA, NRA-ILA, and IFC passed the Hearing Protection Act, SF2279, in 2016.
Through the process of working for years to accomplish Shall Issue, I had become familiar with ‘how the sausage was made’ in some sense. I’ll tell you straight up, it can be very trying. I watched a lot of people and even some advocacy groups trade their ethics for the almighty dollar after those initial years of success. In 2017 IFC and NRA-ILA passed the largest 2A bill in Iowa’s history, with HF517. It was referred to as the Omnibus Gun Bill. This bill legalized SBRs and SBSs, repaired the flawed ‘going armed with intent’ language in Iowa Code, removed the ‘Duty to Carry’ your permit at all times, included the Hunter Safety Program as a prerequisite to attain your Permit to Carry, removed a requirement for retraining with the Permit to Carry which was good for five years and only cost $50 for a new permit and $25 for a renewal, allowed for the DD214 to serve as a Carry Permit training prerequisite, included the ability to carry in the Iowa State Capitol, stopped the public posting of the permit to carry list in the local papers as a shaming technique, applied the “Emergency Powers” prohibitions on government power (which came in really handy during Covid-19 by the way as not an inkling of trespass was whispered toward the practice of the 2A), strengthened our vital preemption code language, increased the penalties for a straw purchase, added a provision for target shooting on private property so nobody could be turned in for being a public nuisance, among many other things. But most importantly, we added an iron-clad Stand Your Ground law to the books.
There were Legislators that were emerging as the ‘go-to’ people for the exercise of this brand of civil liberty. They included Representative Matt Windschitl, who later was awarded the NRA Defender of Freedom Award for his work over these many years and now is the Iowa House Majority Leader. He recognized that some folks were in this fight with others as the beneficiaries, and some saw this as a way to enrich themselves. During the floor debate on the famous Omnibus Bill, he made that very plain for everyone to grasp.
More House Representatives became committed to the pursuit of an exercised civil right protected through the Second Amendment and the Iowa Senate was in lockstep. Rep Highfill and Rep Baudler were driving forces on focused bills. Rep Klein has come on strong. The newest champion in the Iowa House is Rep Holt, a man after my own heart in the way he speaks. These folks have carried heavy pails of water and we’re thankful. We also can’t forget the House Leadership, then-Speaker Upmeyer, now Speaker Grassley, and also former Majority Leader Hagenow.
The Iowa Senate is comprised of some real movers and shakers too. Senator Zaun leads a great group of people as Judiciary Chair. Senator Dan Dawson and Senator Jason Schultz have no fear running bills through and defending them against the silly and baseless attacks that have become standard from the folks who can’t fathom the idea of liberty. They’ve had some help too with members like Senator Sinclair, Senator Cournoyer, and Senator Allen. And of course, we need to remember the Senate Leadership with Majority Leader Whitver and President Chapman having been eager to see 2A legislation through to the end. We still get a few bills passed with bi-partisan support, but it is becoming rare. The local democrats appear to have abandoned their civil liberty-minded principles in large part.
Our work didn’t end with the 2017 Omnibus Bill. We knew it was time to really put the full-court press on for two constitutional ideas. One, a Constitutional Amendment, which in Iowa is no small undertaking, and Constitutional Carry itself. As far as an Amendment goes, a legislative session is actually considered a “General Assembly” and it lasts for two years, even though each year there is a session. In the case of an Amendment, a bill must be passed on back-to-back General Assemblies with identical language – not one comma out of place. There are prerequisites for public notification, which the Iowa Secretary of State didn’t file correctly, that placed our timeline back a year. In truth, we passed what is now known as the “Freedom Amendment” three times, rather than just twice. Then, after all that, the language is placed on the next ballot for ratification of a vote by the people of Iowa by a simple majority of those votes cast. That will take place in 2022.
We knew the ramp-up to Constitutional Carry required lots of education. As silly as it may sound, we’ve become a culture that defaults to asking for permission in nearly every aspect of our lives. This, I believe, is ultimately very bad. If we’re continually working from inside a box, we’re not as cognizant of responsibility and the consequences for bad behavior. We lack purpose when the happens, and ultimately, I believe we lessen the potential for our character to increase through this kind of dominance upon us all. It takes time for people to warm up to some of these ideas even though you and I would like to believe differently. We started having these conversations through social media, events, gun show tables, and all kinds of communication to prepare the landscape.
During this build-up period, we helped defeat dozens, if not hundreds, of really bad bills from becoming law. You can take a look at just a handful of them on the IFC’s Legislative Victories page. We were able to pass SF188 so stun guns were no longer illegal on a college campus, SF537 so coyotes could be taken with artificial light, removed the youth hunting restrictions with HF599, and passed HF2502 a strengthening of Preemption which made more clear that ‘political subdivisions’ of the state can’t curtail your right to carry on county or city property. We scored a huge win against an overreaching DNR with HF716 regarding hunting regulations, youth supervised hunts, and clarifying ammunition for various game seasons. We began working more closely with the National Shooting Sports Foundation through this process as well.
This build-up has been coming for a number of years and has been painstakingly marched out piece by piece in support of the idea behind a Constitutional Carry provision. This has been a long-term goal and we’re proud of the work done by so many people for so long that ultimately make things like this possible. It took no small amount of work to build up a following of people armed with the tools like the IFCPAC site that has a Bill Tracker for everyone to use complete with Legislator Scorecards so the public can see where they voted well and where they gave lip service instead. Attending legislative forums with legislators, talking with the Governor at public functions and calling into her radio broadcasts, and volunteering for IFC itself are all acts that ultimately helped shape this process. This video was captured right after the Constitutional Carry bill went through the Iowa House. The opponents made every attempt to turn this into the ‘background check bill’ with no success.
This compliment to Iowans and beyond has been a long time coming. Having been on the ground floor of this movement for such a long time through such a diverse landscape has truly been nothing short of amazing. I’m so proud of Iowans, both the public and the elected officials, but also the volunteers and engaged members of organizations like IFC, NRA, ASA, NSSF, and beyond that have done so much to help further these causes. You don’t arrive here overnight. It takes a lot of effort and time. Thank you to Governor Kim Reynolds for signing Constitutional Carry (HF756) along with the Firearms Industry Protection Bill (HF621) into law.
Bills like Constitutional Carry that offer liberty and freedom back to the public honor them more than we may realize. They communicate volumes in what they don’t specifically state. There is an inherent nature to be an upstanding citizen with Constitutional Carry. When we opt into this agreement, it transcends a relationship with the State. Rather, it assumes responsibility from us and those we meet along our journey. It sets the stage through common agreement of the nature of good and evil, quite frankly. …And in times like we’re experiencing, a common agreement of what constitutes good and evil is something we should quickly return to and remain focused upon. Iowa, instead of legislating to the lowest common denominator, has chosen to empower the vast majority who deserve and have continued to earn respect.
I love it, Iowa. As a guy who was building ultra-long-range precision rifles in his shop but couldn’t get a measly permission slip to carry way back in the day, to Constitutional Carry in Iowa now as the Chairman of IFC’s Board??? Things have changed for the better, no question. You guys have done a bang-up job. Remain diligent my friends, and take a bow, as I’m quite certain you’ve earned it. That’s the truth.
-Michael Ware – IFC Chairman