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Proposals would further expand Iowa gun rights

DES MOINES — Expanded last year, Iowa gun laws would undergo more significant changes — including doing away with government permits to carry a weapon — under proposals that won support Thursday from Senate Republicans.

Senate File 2106, which passed a Senate Judiciary subcommittee 2-1, would remove the general prohibition on carrying weapons without a permit as well as repealing the duty to carry a permit.

The legislation also repeals Iowa’s permit to acquire handguns and replaces it with a duty to comply with federal law for the acquisition of weapons, which includes a background check. A person still would be allowed to use a carry permit to acquire a gun.

“If you are legally allowed to own and possess firearms today in Iowa, you could legally carry that firearm without additional government interference or restrictions,” said Aaron Dohr of Iowa Gun Owners, who urged Iowa to join 13 other states that have “constitutional carry” laws on the books.

Brian Alexander, a Marion County farmer who supported the bill as “a no brainer,” said the most basic right is to defend yourself.

“A permit is just that — a permission slip from the government and, if the government has the power to give permission, then it follows that the government has the power to revoke or deny that permission,” Alexander added. “Our constitution does not give them that power.”

Opponents of the changes in SF 2106 argued the measures would endanger public safety.

“We see this as a major repeal of background checks in Iowa law and something that would go against the interest of public safety,” said Charlotte Eby, representing the advocacy group formed by former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was severely wounded by a gunman who killed six others in 2011. “We also think this opens the door to unchecked sales of handguns and pistols and would make it easier for dangerous people to obtain guns easily.”

However, Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America said states that have adopted similar laws to the one proposed in Iowa have seen good results.

“The concealed carry movement has resulted in declining violent crime,” he said. “We’re not changing the direction, we’re expanding the direction.”

Lobbyist representing religious groups spoke against the measure, and Tim Coonan of Every Town for Gun Safety Action Fund said his group opposed the bill because it sees the background check system as “effectively necessary.”

Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, chairman of the subcommittee, said he supported the measure because he believes it recognizes Iowans’ Second Amendment right to bear arms.

“There is a growing body of support across the country and here in Iowa included that you shouldn’t have to ask permission of the government if you are a law-abiding citizen to bear arms,” he said. “Regulations and laws only regulate good people.”

Schultz was also a member of a separate subcommittee that advanced Senate Study Bill 3155, which proposes an amendment to the Iowa Constitution stating that Iowa “affirms and recognizes the fundamental right of the people to acquire, keep, possess, transport, carry, transfer, and use arms for all legitimate purposes. Any and all restrictions of this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny.”

If a proposed amendment to the constitution is approved by the House and Senate in the same form in two consecutive sessions of the Legislature, it would go to voters their approval.

Pentagon misconduct complaints increase; fewer found guilty

WASHINGTON — The number of complaints filed against senior military and defense officials has increased over the past several years, but more cases are being rejected as not credible and fewer officers are being found guilty of misconduct, according to data from Defense Department investigators.

Overall, there were 803 complaints filed in the fiscal year that ended last Sept. 30, compared to 787 the previous year. But just 144 were deemed credible and investigated by the IG, and 49 senior officials were eventually found guilty of misconduct. Allegations against the officials often involve ethical misconduct — such as having an inappropriate relationship — but they also include violating travel rules, wrongly accepting gifts, sending subordinates on personal errands or treating workers badly.

The data was released this week during a House Armed Services personnel subcommittee hearing. Glenn Fine, who is serving as the Pentagon's inspector general, said the decline in the number of cases being investigated is due to a more thorough screening process of the complaints that come in. As a result, he said, about one-third of the cases that are investigated are ultimately substantiated. That rate is a bit lower than last year, but much higher than previous years. The rate in 2008 was just 14 percent.

Senior military leaders also told the panel that they are seeing far more so-called whistleblower complaints that can trigger investigations and stall careers, but only a tiny fraction of the alleged offenders are found guilty.

Fine told the House panel that just two whistleblower cases charging a senior official with retribution were substantiated in the 2017 fiscal year, compared to three in each of the two previous years. Whistleblower cases usually allege that an officer or superior has retaliated against a lower ranking service member or worker for making some type of complaint.

According to Fine, the number of retribution complaints filed against senior officials increased from 145 to 165 over the past five years. But, more broadly, complaints against all department individuals jumped by nearly 80 percent over that same time period.

"Whistleblower reprisal has skyrocketed because of the misuse and misapplication of whistleblower reprisal against senior officials. It is off the charts," Lt. Gen. David Quantock, the Army's inspector general, told the committee, noting that just 4 percent of the Army cases are substantiated. He said the complaints are often made by a soldier or civilian after they have been held accountable for misconduct or poor performance.

"The resulting claim of reprisal creates challenges for senior commanders who hold people accountable, and then are faced with an inspector general whistleblower reprisal investigation," he said.

Fine said that he is hiring a fulltime whistleblower ombudsman to help make sure troops and workers understand their rights and responsibilities and to help prevent reprisals.

Lawmakers raised concerns about whether military investigators can effectively cast judgment on officers in their own service, and they questioned whether civilians should do those jobs. They also asked if offenders are treated equally across the services — or if officers might be disciplined differently for the same offense depending on what service they belong to.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., said she's concerned that lower-ranking service members are treated more harshly for violations than senior officers are.

"There is a phrase in the military that goes like this, 'Different spanks for different ranks,'" she said. "Many senior leaders who should be the essential core of the chain of command are not being held to the same standard as the rank and file. This corrupts fairness, justice and morale."

Fine said only a small minority of senior leaders are guilty of misconduct. He added that the IG's office is looking into ways to help standardize investigations and also track and record cases in similar ways.

The inspectors general also told the committee that they are understaffed, have large backlogs, and it can often 200-400 days to investigate and complete a case.