Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) signed a bill into law Thursday that drastically increases rights for gun owners in the state, including an expansion of the controversial “stand your ground” provision. The move may set into motion a push for looser gun laws across the nation.
The legislation, called House File 517, grants Iowans the rights to defend themselves using force, even “deadly force,” in public if they feel threatened. A citizen can be mistaken about the threat so long as he can prove there was “a reasonable basis” for his actions – a move that some believe shifts the burden of proof off of defendants.
The law also expands the rights of citizens to sue the government if they feel their Second Amendment rights are threatened by local ordinances or gun-free zones. Also, leaving a conceal-carry permit at home will no longer be considered a misdemeanor so long as the gun owner can produce it at a later date.
Opponents are concerned the new bill, which the NRA endorsed as part of the "nationwide movement to expand law-abiding citizens' [Second Amendment] rights," will put more people in danger.
"'Stand your ground' is pretty problematic from a public safety standpoint. It was opposed by prosecutors; criminal prosecutors are concerned about their ability to pursue justice against people who have wrongly used lethal force," Hannah Shearer, attorney at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, told FOX Business.
Republicans have control of both houses of the Iowa state government for the first time since 1998, which allowed them to pass such sweeping changes to gun laws. The GOP has steadily built up majorities in state legislatures across the nation since 2009, now controlling 67 of the 98 partisan legislative chambers. With Republicans in control of both houses across many state governments, Iowa could be part of a new thrust toward a more pro-firearm stance nationwide.
In fact, a "stand your ground" bill will be debated on the Minnesota House floor in May. In Florida, where Republicans control both chambers, the state Senate is debating an update to its "stand your ground" standard that would fully flip the burden of proof to prosecutors in shooting and assault cases.
The new law in Iowa will permit minors to legally use guns so long as they are accompanied by a guardian, effective immediately. It also allows people with permits to bring concealed guns into the state capitol building and eliminates the ability of the state to ban the possession of weapons during emergencies.
Most pieces of the bill are set to go into effect on July 1.