Iowa Gun Bills Provoke House Democrats To Walk Out

Feb 29, 2012 | Updated Feb 29, 2012

Democratic members of the Iowa House of Representatives staged a walkout Wednesday morning in protest over what they say is a Republican attempt to deny them a say in the consideration of several gun bills, which they say will make the state into the "Wild, Wild West."

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (D-Polk County) said the 40-member caucus left the Capitol in Des Moines because Republicans had placed two controversial gun bills on the agenda without giving them enough time to develop amendments to the legislation. The proposals include an amendment to the state constitution that would allow Iowa residents the right to "keep and bear arms" and a bill to allow people to use deadly force against those they believe will harm or kill them or are committing a "serious felony," according to the Des Moines Register.

"Yesterday, the Republican Majority Leader gave me a list of the scope of possible bills that might be debated today. Under House Rules, the amendment filing deadline is the day before bills are debated ... in other words ... yesterday," McCarthy said in a statement. "House Republicans have betrayed our trust and have told us today, contrary to what we were led to believe yesterday, that not only are they debating bills they said would not come up, they are going to attempt to alter the Iowa Constitution with extreme gun language that, if enacted, would turn Iowa into the Wild, Wild West."

The whereabouts of the House Democrats have not been disclosed, and it is not known if the caucus is still in Iowa.

House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer (R-Hancock County) told the Des Moines Register (which refers to her district by town name) this morning that she provided McCarthy with a list of uncontroversial bills and that legislators knew that other bills that had already passed through House committees could come up in today's session:

But Upmeyer, R-Garner, shot back this morning that Democrats did have adequate warning, and suggested their flight from the Capitol was more about making 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."

The Iowa Democrats' move is similar to a move Wisconsin Democratic lawmakers made in 2011 in an attempt to prevent debate on Gov. Scott Walker's (R) collective bargaining proposals.

The two proposals are among several gun bills currently pending in the Iowa legislature. Among the other proposals are measures to allow guns on college campuses and to prohibit local governments and the Iowa State Fair from enacting rules to ban guns in public buildings.

The proposals come amid a national effort to expand gun laws at the state level, including a New Hampshire proposal to allow guns in public buildings and on campus, and an Arizona bill to allow guns on campuses. Last year, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) vetoed a similar bill.

In Oregon, legislators and the state Higher Education Board are exploring ways to ban guns on college campuses.

UPDATE: 6:30 p.m. -- Iowa House Democrats returned to the Capitol late Wednesday afternoon, ending the six-hour walkout, the Associated Press reports. The walkout occurred over a dispute regarding two pieces of gun rights legislation the Republican majority had posted for discussion on Wednesday's agenda.

McCarthy said that his caucus ended their walkout believing they had made their point over how the GOP had handled the bills. The House is expected to discuss the bills later Wednesday night.