House Democrats leave Iowa Capitol in protest of gun billsIowa House Democrats this morning left the Capitol in protest of two gun bills the Republican majority had planned to debate today that critics contend would make the state part of the “Wild, Wild West.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy accused House Leader Linda Upmeyer of failing to properly inform legislators about planned debate today on the bills. The short notice hindered Democrats from offering amendments to improve the bills, McCarthy said.
But Upmeyer, R-Garner, shot back this morning that Democrats did have adequate warning, and suggested their flight from the Capitol was an attempt to make a political scene.
“Iowans didn’t send us down here just to do easy stuff,” she said. “The Second Amendment is a question that many Iowans would like placed before them. I don’t know why they’re afraid to have a debate on a subject just because they don’t like the subject. That seems ludicrous to me.”
One bill would alter the state constitution to specifically include gun rights. Another would rewrite the law on “reasonable force” so that a person may use force — including deadly force — against someone who they believe threatens to kill or cause serious injury or who is committing a violent felony.
“(Upmeyer) said they will debate those bills today whether we like it or not,” said McCarthy, D-Des Moines. “I told her that we’ve been double crossed, and we will not be debating those bills today.”
In response, Democrats have moved to an undisclosed location. Republicans hold 60 of 100 seats and could debate the bill without Democrats since they have a quorum. The majority party sets the calendar for debate and guides the course of business on the House floor.
“We have been double-crossed as a caucus, and we’re not going to sit back and be treated with historic misuse of power,” McCarthy said.
In a statement released after the Democrats exited the Capitol, McCarthy said the Republican leadership told Democrats yesterday the gun legislation would not be considered today. Because they didn’t believe the bill would come up today, he said, Democrats did not file all the amendments they wanted to offer on the bills prior to the deadline set in the House rules.
When met by a reporter after the Republicans adjourned from a party caucus, Upmeyer rejected McCarthy’s argument. The gun bills were noticed in the same manner as any other bill that could come before the House, she said — in a calendar that is updated and circulated to lawmakers everyday.
When Democrats asked what the Republicans intended to bring up today, Upmeyer said she gave them a list of non-controversial bills, but left consideration of other bills “open-ended.”
“Every member knows that anything that comes out of committee and is placed on the calendar is eligible,” Upmeyer said.
A House spokeswoman added that Democrats had in fact already offered an amendment to one of the gun bills, indicating that they had had ample time to develop proposed changes.
Upmeyer said she was not sure whether the House would convene and begin considering bills in the Democrats’ absence. As of 11 a.m., the chamber remained at ease, with Republican lawmakers sitting casually at their desks or chatting in small groups on the House floor.
The House spokeswoman said both Upmeyer and House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, had attempted to contact McCarthy, but received no response.
Chris Rager, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, described today’s events as “disappointing.” He noted that some Democrats have voiced support for some of the bills.
“I haven’t heard from Rep. McCarthy on it but I know he has supported us on gun legislation in the past,” Rager said. “I’m a little confused that he didn’t keep the caucus here. I would have thought he would have been supportive of this legislation.”
Here are the bills:
House Joint Resolution 2009: Iowa Right to Keep and Bear Arms State Constitutional Amendment
This resolution would begin a process to amend Iowa’s constitution to include a “right to keep and bear arms.” The proposed amendment echoes the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, saying “The right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
To pass, the resolution must be approved by both the House and the Senate in two consecutive general assemblies before voters would weigh in on the issue. It means that the earliest a vote could occur would be 2013, should the legislature act this year and next.
House File 2215: Reasonable force/Stand your ground
The bill would rewrites the law on “reasonable force” so that a person may use force — including deadly force — against someone who they believe threatens to kill or cause serious injury, or who is committing a violent felony. The bill specifically says that a person is presumed to be justified in using deadly force if the person reasonably believes that deadly force is necessary to avoid injury or risk to his or her life.
Iowa’s current law allows potential victims to use deadly force against a perceived threat only if an alternative course of action also entails “a risk to life or safety.”