Republicans in the Iowa House and one Democrat have endorsed the idea of adding an amendment to the state’s constitution that would provide the strongest defense of gun rights in the nation.

This morning the 40 Democrats in the House staged a dramatic, seven-hour walk-out to delay the debate, then heavily criticized the proposal once debate began early this evening. Representative Roger Thomas, a Democrat from Elkader, accused Republicans of pursuing an election-year agenda.

“Folks, I think we know what this is all about,” Thomas said. “This is about campaign contributions. This is about gotchas.”

Representative Jeff Kaufmann of Wilton said he and his fellow Republicans are merely voting to present the issue to voters.

“I don’t understand what we’re afraid of here,” Kaufmann said, “to let the people have a say in all of this.”

House Democratic Leader Kevin McCarthy of Des Moines suggested the proposal eventually would “eviscerate” current state laws that regulate guns, like a requirement that Iowans who want to carry a concealed weapon get a permit.

“I think this is not in the mainstream, significantly so,” McCarthy said. “I think it’s a divisive issue.”

Representative Erik Helland, a Republican from Johnston, suggested the “doomsday” warnings from Democrats were exaggerated.

“We’re not protecting fanatical gun owners,” Helland said. “We’re standing up and telling the government, ‘This right belongs to the citizens and if you’re going to take it away, you better have a good reason.”

Representative Lance Horbach, a Republican from Tama, suggested “anti-gun” activists are trying to “diminish gun ownership” in the United States.

“I’m not a gun guy…but I am a freedom guy and every time you talk about restrictions in the laws, you’re talking about the restrictions on good people,” Horbach said. “Nowhere, nowhere in this amendment does it offer protections for evil.”

Representative Mark Smith, a Democrat from Marshalltown, responded.

“What about the freedom of people to live their lives free from gun violence?” Smith asked.

The proposal was endorsed by 59 Republicans and one Democrat — Representative Brian Quirk of New Hampton — voted for it.  Two legislators were absent for the vote.

Making changes to Iowa’s constitution is not a speedy process. This resolution outlining a proposed constitutional amendment, must clear the Iowa Senate this year, then be approved again by the Iowa House and Senate next year before it could be presented to Iowa voters on the November, 2014 ballot.

(This story was updated at 7:52 p.m. to reflect the fact that Representative Vicki Lensing, a Democrat from Iowa City who pushed the “yes” button on her desk did so in error and has filed the paperwork to indicate she is a “no” on the resolution.)