DES MOINES (AP) — The Iowa House approved two gun-rights measures Wednesday night that sparked Democrats to stage a walkout earlier in the day, stalling action for six hours.
One bill would allow people to use deadly force to protect themselves, and the other calls for writing gun rights protections into the Iowa Constitution. The second measure would have to be approved by the Legislature next year and then submitted to the state's voters for approval.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Des Moines said the chamber's 40 Democrats returned after deciding that they had made their displeasure clear regarding a lack of notice on the bills and regarding concerns that the proposals would gut the state's gun laws. He said he feared that the votes would turn Iowa into the "Wild, Wild West."
"It would eliminate all gun laws," he said. "This issue is very, very extreme. This proposal is not a mainstream proposal."
Supporters of the change in the Iowa Constitution argued that judges are eager to limit the rights of gun owners.
"For far too long, we've seen judicial abuse of our Second Amendment," said Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, the main backer of the effort.
Critics argued that the measure would pre-empt virtually all of the state's gun control laws, a charge that Windschitl rejected as "simply false."
Both measures were approved largely along party lines in the House, where Republicans have a 60-40 majority.
Republicans could have debated the bills without Democrats in attendance. The rules in Iowa are different from those in Wisconsin and Indiana, where walkouts by Democrats have previously stretched on for weeks. More than half the lawmakers must be on hand to conduct business in those states, though Wisconsin Republicans eventually used a procedural move to approve legislation opposed by Democrats.
Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, said he decided not to press the issue while the Democrats were absent because that would have poisoned the atmosphere on an already emotionally charged issue.
"Right now, I'm trying to be patient," he said. "Part of my job is to protect the institution."
The future of the measures is unclear as they move to the Senate, where Democrats have a 26-24 majority. Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said he has no plans to bring the issue up for debate.
Gronstal said he wasn't warned in advance of the walkout. "I know nothing about what happened."
Tim Albrecht, a spokesman for Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, said the governor would have no comment.
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