Are Iowa’s Current Gun Laws Constitutional?

Iowa law set out in Iowa Code section 724.8B makes it a separate and distinct criminal offense to possess a firearm while committing an “indictable offense.”  An “indictable offense” in Iowa includes all offenses that are categorized as serious misdemeanors, aggravated misdemeanors or felonies.  They include offenses such as theft, driving while suspended, possession of marijuana, operating while intoxicated and other misdemeanors which are completely unconnected to violence or use of a firearm.

Charges under section 724.8B are being filed by law enforcement regardless of whether the individual has a valid permit to carry a concealed weapon or is carrying under Iowa’s right to carry provision.  What we are seeing at GRL Law is that even if a person is otherwise lawfully carrying a firearm, they are being charged with violations of Iowa Code section 724.8B if they are also arrested for another offense that has no connection to a firearm at all.   This does not sit well with GRL.

Enter the newly ratified Iowa Constitutional provision article 1, section 1A, and the Second Amendment. First, newly adopted article 1, section IA provides: “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.  The sovereign state of Iowa affirms and recognizes this right to be a fundamental individual right.  Any and all restrictions of this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny.”  Clearly, section 724.8B infringes upon a person’s right to keep and bear arms as it criminalizes such conduct in specified circumstances.  The next question becomes whether the law survives a strict scrutiny challenge.  For a law to pass a strict scrutiny test, the prosecution is required to prove that the prohibition is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest.  So far, when GRL has raised this issue before Iowa District Courts, prosecutors have struggled with this requirement, especially considering that the code section outlaws possession of ANY object that qualify as a “dangerous weapon” not just firearms.  Additionally, according to how the law is written, it applies to the commission of any “indictable offense” not just those where firearms are utilized in commission of the offense.  Passing the strict scrutiny test under the Iowa Constitution is a difficult sell.

Second, the government’s ability to outlaw gun possession by individuals under the Second Amendment has been drastically curtailed by recent United States Supreme Court decisions.  In 2022, the United States Supreme Court decided New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc., v. Bruen.  In Bruen the United States Supreme Court set out a new test under the Second Amendment, which requires the prosecution to prove that government regulation that interferes with a citizens exercising their constitutional right to bear arms must, at a minimum, be consistent with the National historical tradition of firearm regulation.  Notably absent from our Nations historical tradition of firearm regulation is any historical attempt by the government to criminalize gun possession simply because an individual is also committing a misdemeanor offense.  As it relates to mere drug possession, even federal regulations do not impose restrictions on firearm possession or carrying simply because and individual is in mere possession of a drug.

As it relates to the Second Amendment, there are currently a number of cases pending before the United States Supreme Court that will have a significant impact on the constitutionality of Iowa’s Iowa Code section 724.8B.  They include cases challenging prohibitions of gun possession by individuals convicted of felony offenses, domestic abuse assaults and those who are considered “unlawful users” of controlled substances.  We expect decisions on these cases sometime this year.

The landscape surrounding Iowa’s gun laws is constantly changing.  Currently, the application of article 1, section 1A of the Iowa Constitution has yet to find its way before the Iowa Supreme Court.  The United States Supreme Court decisions will have a significant impact on how the Second Amendment is interpreted and may also provide a framework for Iowa Courts to analyze these issues under our new Constitutional provisions.  Regardless, any criminal accusation under Iowa Code section 724.8B should be aggressively defendant and these significant constitutional arguments advanced.

The legal challenges being advanced by GRL Law present thought-provoking examinations of constitutional rights, historical traditions, and the scope of government regulation concerning firearm possession. The outcome of these cases has the potential to shape the landscape of gun laws and constitutional protections in Iowa for years to come.  As the legal battle unfolds, it will be interesting to witness the intersection of legal principles, constitutional interpretation, and the protection of individual rights in the context of Iowa’s gun prohibition.  GRL Law continues to advance these arguments throughout the state of Iowa, consistent with our ongoing commitment to uphold constitutional principles and safeguard individual liberties in the realm of firearm regulation.