FILE - Gun store, gun shop, firearm sales, gun control

(The Center Square) – Republicans in the Iowa House of Representatives – and Rep. Wes Breckenridge, D-Newton, the Public Safety committee ranking chair – have passed a firearms omnibus bill. 

HF 756 was passed March 17 after nearly four hours of debate on the House floor and inclusion of an amendment.

Under the bill, Iowans would be able to acquire a firearm from a federally registered dealer by either presenting a valid permit or by completing a national instant background check every time they buy a firearm. They could also acquire the weapon through a private seller, who would face a class D felony instead of an aggravated misdemeanor (as under the current law) if the purchaser is not eligible to carry a firearm. A class D felony carries a penalty of up to five years in prison, have to pay a fine of $750 to $7,500, and lose their right to carry or purchase a firearm ever again, Holt said.

Currently, Iowans must have a permit to carry or acquire – which is valid for five years and requires a one-time background check – a firearm to purchase a weapon from a federally licensed gun seller or present a permit to a private seller.

“If the seller does not know [the purchaser] well enough to be sure [that they are not prohibited from purchasing the firearm], they can visit a licensed firearms dealer to run a background check and then sell [the purchaser] on consignment,” Rep. Steven Holt told The Center Square in a phone interview. “If [the purchaser] is caught with a firearm [the purchaser] cannot legally possess, it would be traced back to the seller. … My conclusion is that under this bill, sellers will not want to take this huge risk unless they know the person really well.”

He added background checks will occur more frequently both for private sales and federally licensed sales and that Iowans who wish to take their firearms to other states would likely continue to register for permits.

Rep. Mary Lynn Wolfe, D-Clinton, said during the debate she opposed the bill because the existing carry permit process “does have some value, does do something to make Iowa a safer place to live and to protect the people who are carrying.”

Many Iowans who have been denied permits for firearms under the “confusing, fact-specific” current laws “understandably believed” they could possess a firearm, but the “mandatory, extensive” background check declares the person is ineligible for a firearm, she said.

“The only reason they became aware that they couldn’t legally possess and carry a firearm was because we require a person to … go through the permitting process to participate in that fairly extensive background check,” Wolfe said. “And then they know, and then they can fix it. Or if they can’t fix it, then at least they’re not walking around committing a state and federal felony when they walk out the door with their gun.”

Iowa Catholic Conference is among the approximately dozen organizations that have lobbied against the bill. Executive Director Tom Chapman told The Center Square in an emailed statement that Iowa bishops believe the Constitutional right to bear arms “should be balanced with reasonable regulations that are compatible with the Second Amendment.”

“Specifically, they are concerned about removing the requirement to have a valid permit to acquire a weapon, or to carry a firearm in a city. In addition, no permit would be required for sales between private citizens,” Chapman said. “The bishops don’t think our current permitting system is an unreasonable impediment for people exercising their Second Amendment rights. The number we’ve seen is about 400,000 people currently have a gun permit in Iowa.”

The amendment, H-1219 (which was amended by H-1226), would make it a serious misdemeanor for a person to carry weapons if the person is ineligible to receive a permit, is illegally in possession of a controlled substance, is under the influence of alcohol, or is committing an “indictable offense.”