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PHOTOS: Iowa gun rights activists take aim at 2012 legislative session

SEARSBORO — A summer rainstorm wasn’t enough to prevent a few hundred of Iowa’s most active gun enthusiasts from gathering on the grounds of the Big Springs Range Complex Saturday for a small trade show, firearms training, range shooting and speeches from state and national lawmakers.

The Second Amendment Rally, hosted by the Iowa Firearms Coalition and the National Rifle Association and sponsored by a wealth of businesses, marked the second time in as many years that grassroots activists of all ilk had gathered for networking and to hear from prominent lawmakers.

“We had such a great time and turn-out [during our first rally] that we thought we should make this an annual event,” Jeff Burkett, incoming IFC president, told The Iowa Independent. “We want people to have this opportunity to come out, shoot their guns at the ranges, have an opportunity to meet their legislators, meet the Iowa Firearms Coalition leadership and do true grassroots work where people can actually get plugged in and share their feelings and concerns about Second Amendment rights.”

The Iowa Firearms Coalition morphed from the previous Iowa Carry organization, and was developed because supporters saw a need for cohesion among all the different types of people who felt strongly about the Second Amendment, which provides a right to keep and bear arms.

“In general, whether you are talking Second Amendment or not, I think people don’t really have a very good process for plugging in and being a part of the state and local policy-making process,” Burkett said. “There are a lot of gun groups in the state that aren’t really plugged into one another. … So you have all of these really good Iowa-based groups, but they didn’t have a resource for plugging into the legislature. So what we wanted to do was take Iowa Carry and rebrand it as the Iowa Firearms Coalition and make sure that we have the ability to take all [Second Amendment] rights issues to the Capitol.”

At the beginning of 2011, and largely due to the lobbying effort of the IFC and NRA, Iowa became a “shall issue” state. County sheriffs were stripped of discretion when issuing weapons permits, and any individual with a training certificate and absent certain past criminal mistakes or history of mental deficiency who applied would be given a permit to carry. In response, several Iowa communities and counties considered, and a few adopted, specific guidelines for weapons carrying within their jurisdiction. Although 2nd Amendment advocates have fought back against the localities for doing so, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller has upheld the right of the jurisdictions to control their own spaces.

Known as “preemption,” the situation is one that the IFC and lawmakers at the rally pledged to correct.

“I would say that our primary issue is that we want to get the Iowa Constitution amended with a specific, enumerated right to keep and bear arms. We are one of the last states in the United States that does not have that enumerated right in its state constitution, and we realize that’s going to be the foundation for success on the other rights as well,” Burkett said.

“Probably next on our list and a pretty big target for us is preemption. All of these cities and counties that have been given the green light to go ahead and pass what we view as illegal ordinances and those things — we need to have that hammered out and we need to have a stronger preemption law so that it is clear that anywhere in the state that you are legal to carry a firearm that you are allowed to without worrying about all of these imaginary boundaries being put into place.”

Lawmakers and Candidates Speak Out

A large smattering of 2012 candidates reserved booth space at the Second Amendment Rally, but only one candidate delivered remarks to the crowd.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty spent the bulk of his short speech reminding those in attendance of words spoken by then-Sen. Barack Obama during an event in San Francisco, Calif.

“The current President of the United States, Barack Obama … ridiculed small town America,” Pawlenty said. “[Obama] essentially said that they are fearful or they are worrisome, and he said they, quote, cling to God and their guns. He was making fun of us. He was demeaning us. … I’ve got a message for President Obama. I love God, I love America and I love the 2nd Amendment.”

Pawlenty, whose staff members had affixed photographs of him at a shooting range to campaign signs for the event, also pledged if elected to the White House to “unequivocally, unabashedly, strongly, always and forever stand and defend the Second Amendment and all that that means and implies in terms of your rights and our rights to keep and bear arms.”

U.S. Rep. Steve King spoke of the importance of the Second Amendment and how all other rights would deteriorate and fade if the Second Amendment was not upheld.

“So, I ask you, how do we protect and defend the second amendment?” King asked those in attendance. “Well, we don’t get to go out everyday and take on a tyrant. Thank god we don’t. We don’t have tyrants that are threatening our freedom and our liberty in the way that our founding fathers imagined because we have our guns. … We must utilize our Second Amendment and when we do so we transfer into the next generation the culture of responsible use of firearms.”

Iowa Sen. Mark Chelgren, an Ottumwa Republican, agreed. “If we forget to defend our liberties, we will lose them,” he said.

“I realized the Second Amendment is what defends the rest of the Constitution. Without the Second Amendment, the Constitution is just words. The Second Amendment puts the force, the threat behind the rest of the document.”

In addition to Chelgren, all Republican state lawmakers in attendance — House Speaker Kraig Paulsen (Hiawatha), Assistant Majority Leader Matt Windschitl (Missouri Valley), Assistant Majority Leader Dave Deyoe (Nevada), Reps. Clel Baudler (Greenfield), Guy Vander Linden (Oskaloosa), Chris Hagenow (Windsor Heights) and Sen. Bill Dix (Shell Rock) — spent more time speaking privately with rally attendees than they did providing remarks from the public stage. A few didn’t make public remarks at all, but were just noted as being present.

Only one state Democrat, Rep. Brian Quirk (New Hampton) was acknowledged as being in attendance. Introduced as “the former leading member of the Democratic six-pack,” Quirk, like most speakers, emphasized his support for Second Amendment rights and pledged to continue to support issues brought by the IFC and NRA in Des Moines.

“I supported whole-heartedly the shall issue, and I completely echo the other speaker’s issues and their responses as far as 2nd Amendment rights,” Quirk said.

“When we passed the shall issue bill, none of us ever guessed that the cities and counties would take the positions they have as far as banning in certain parts. We will definitely be remedying that and it will be a bipartisan vote. I can guarantee you that. Also, with the stand your ground, another issue that is near and dear to me as well. Coming from a small, rural community and watching what has been happening in the papers, that’s something that I think is very important that we all have our rights and we should not be able to be sued for defending our rights. And we will definitely be making that a bipartisan issue.”

Paulsen, Dix and Windschitl encouraged those in attendance to get involved and stay involved by donating to Republicans, volunteering their time during campaign season and reaching out to all members of the Legislature with their wants and desires in state policy.

“When it comes around next fall, re-engage,” urged Paulsen. “Engage with your time, your energy, your talents, your money — whatever it takes so that we can ensure that we always have a pro-Second Amendment legislature. I will tell you that you have a pro-Second Amendment House of Representatives right now.”

Outside of offering general assurances that they were behind Second Amendment causes, however, another common thread by lawmakers was preemption and their overall disappointment with AG Miller’s advice to counties and cities.

“Our attorney general has gone out and slapped us all on the face, saying our local cities and counties can preempt Second Amendment rights that are written in our Constitution. That is unacceptable,” said Windschitl.

Hagenow informed the audience that he served as an attorney for the IFC and NRA, and that he was seeking individuals who have specific complaints about preemption.

“We are eager to show Tom Miller that he is wrong,” Hagenow said. “[We are] eager to find people who don’t enjoy the idea of counties and cities creating this hodgepodge of ideas across the state of Iowa. If you live in one of those areas, if you know someone who has a specific gripe there — that is, they’ve got a reason they need to carry. They shouldn’t need one, but they do. We’d like to talk to you.

“We’ve got to continue fighting this everywhere we can. We are going to fight it in the Legislature, but we will fight it in the courts if we have to.”

(All Photos: Lynda Waddington/The Iowa Independent)

Image has not been found. URL: http://media.iowaindependent.com/tpaw_signing_480.jpgFormer Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty was the only 2012 presidential candidate to make an appearance Saturday and speak at the 2nd Amendment rally near Searsboro.

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