In Iowa, you can already “stand your ground.”Really.

It’s been way too long since I’ve posted on this blog site but we are back in session and the bills are rolling out so … we’ll see if I can be a little more consistent going forward.

Today (Monday) I was on Iowa Public Radio’s “River to River” program, talking about Iowa’s current law relevant to a citizen’s right to defend herself/another/her property/the property of another. Senator Chelgren was also on the show, discussing two bills ( Senate File 25 and Senate File 70 ) that he recently filed, I assume to address what he believes are deficiencies in current code (although I’ll let him explain that for himself on today’s radio show).

There are a lot of misconceptions about Chapter 704, Iowa’s current “justification” law (which is legalese for “self defense” law);  while some of those misconceptions are due to  the deliberate dissemination of misinformation on social media (by people who should know better),  I would certainly agree that at least some of the Chapter 704 statutes (e.g., 704.1 , which packs a lot of law covering three different issues into one little paragraph) are not particularly easy reading. But if you do actually read through and study Chapter 704, you will see that in Iowa, citizens have the right to “stand our ground” in almost all circumstances – the only situation in which a citizen who is confronted with force (against herself or another) is required to take some alternative action (e.g., retreat) as opposed to meeting force with force is IF she can safely do so without putting herself or anyone else at any risk – i.e., if retreating is a completely risk free option. Which I would think would very rarely be the case, right? And of course, if a citizen is in her residence, place of employment or place of business, there’s no “alternative course of action” requirement at all.

[For those of you who are interested, here’s a pdf of a presentation on Chapter 704/Iowa’s justification law  I recently did (aimed at non-attorneys)  … it’s super enlightening. Or in any event, it’s a quick read.]

As at least some of you are aware, in addition to serving in the state legislature I’m a criminal defense attorney, and I am and have always been a staunch supporter and defender of ALL of our state and federal constitutional rights – and as far as 2nd Amendment rights, my voting record speaks for itself. I’ve voted in support of almost all (maybe all?) of the “gun bills” that have passed out of the House over the past four years – not because I’m afraid of the NRA (I’m not) but because those bills didn’t make Iowa a less safe place in which to live (which was evidenced by the fact that Iowa’s law enforcement agencies did not register in opposition to the bills in their final form), and because the bills in their final forms were the product of good faith compromise on both sides, and because many of my constituents requested that I support the bills and gave me good reasons to do so, and also because Constitution.

Senator Chelgren’s bills aren’t in the House yet, so I haven’t spent much time on them. At first glance, both bills seem to include provisions that are similar to provisions already in code (e.g., under current  707.6 , a person who uses reasonable force to defend himself or another or property is already immune from civil liability for any injuries to the person against whom the reasonable force was used) but not identical, which is problematic for enforcement and clarity purposes.

Also problematic: under Senate File 70, a person is justified in using force, including deadly force, if a person “believes” that deadly force is needed to “prevent another person from committing, or who is about to commit, an aggravated misdemeanor or felony offense.” First, there’s no requirement that the belief be a reasonable one; thus, under the bill a woman with an irrational fear of brown haired men would be legally justified in shooting a brown haired man in the HyVee parking lot if she sincerely believed the brown haired man was about to grab her and rape her, even if her belief was completely irrational and predicated upon the fact that he was looking at her funny and walking towards her in (what she believed to be) a furtive manner. Second, suggesting that the use of deadly force to prevent the commission of an aggravated misdemeanor (e.g., the theft of a $600 bike) might ever be legally justified is not acceptable – both because third degree theft is not a death penalty offense, and also because there’s no requirement that the belief re the imminent commission of the theft be a reasonable belief.

Having said that, I strongly believe that Iowa Code Chapter 704 could benefit from a comprehensive overhaul – not to amend the substance of the already robust protection embodied in current code, but to ensure that the statutory language setting out the scope and breath of an Iowan’s right to protect himself, his property, or another person provides accurate, understandable and unambiguous guidance to Iowa’s citizens, law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, judges and juries. I’d jump at the opportunity to serve on a joint House/Senate subcommittee tasked with reviewing and possibly re-writing Chapter 704, with input from citizens, law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, the NRA and IFA, gun safety groups, etc. This type of “big picture” legislating takes more time and effort than passing multiple (often contradictory) bills amending individual little pieces of Chapter 704, but the end result would be a win for Iowa and a win for the 2nd Amendment.


About Representative Mary Wolfe

Part time attorney; full time State Representative for Iowa House District 98 (East Clinton County)
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2 Responses to In Iowa, you can already “stand your ground.”Really.

  1. LOIS Seger says:

    Thanks, Mary for your insights on Iowa Code 704. I’ll be looking for your comments on SF 25 and SF 70. Thanks again for your blog and thoughtful comments. As you know, I’m opposed to further expansion of gun rights legislation.

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