DES MOINES – Gun advocates cheered loudly Thursday as Gov. Chet Culver eased an impediment for some seeking permits to carry a concealed weapon by approving a standardized process that will apply equally in all 99 Iowa counties beginning next Jan. 1.
During a ceremony in the Statehouse rotunda, Culver signed legislation that will make Iowa a “shall issue” state when it comes to county sheriffs issuing permits to acquire or carry a concealed weapon.
“This bill strikes an appropriate balance, recognizing the rights of law-abiding Iowans guaranteed by the Second Amendment and the duty of local law enforcement officers,” Culver said. “We all have a role to play in public safety. I believe this is a good bill that has the potential to keep Iowans safer.”
Under Senate File 2379, county sheriffs would lose much of their discretion in denying concealed weapons permits – a change which prompted most members of the Iowa State Sheriffs’ and Deputies’ Association to oppose the measure.
“It’s a pretty significant public safety change,” said Susan Cameron, an association lobbyist. “For the most part, they don’t believe that they’re unjustly denying permits now so they don’t think that will have a huge impact.”
Cedar County Sheriff Warren Wethington, one of five county sheriffs who attended the bill-signing ceremony, acknowledged the issue created some tension among his association but said it was important to remove “a double standard” where some sheriffs were issuing permits but others were applying stricter standards and denying permits.
“We still have discretion. The only difference now is we have to put it in writing and they have an appeals process,” he said. “It takes a lot of the good-old-boy factor out of it. I think after a year has passed and there won’t be any problems, it will all be forgotten.”
The bill seeks to create uniform standards in all 99 counties for issuing permits to carry a concealed weapon in public. It will require sheriffs to issue a permit to carry firearms to all applicants unless they are subject to certain specific disqualifiers.
Under current law, sheriffs can issue or deny permits. There standards vary with some issuing permits to nearly everyone who applies and some denying nearly all applications. Nearly 35,000 Iowans have concealed carry permits, according to lawmakers.
Chris Rager, an Iowa lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, said Thursday’s action signifies the first time in nearly a century that a major step has been taken to enhance the right-to-carry freedoms of Iowans. He said the NRA-backed legislation will allow law-abiding Iowans the right to carry without being subject to the subjective discretion of individual sheriffs, changing Iowa from a "may-issue" state to a one of 38 “shall-issue" U.S. states.
Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, who opposed the bill, said she was concerned the new law will take away local control from county sheriffs seeking to best protect their citizens.
Under the bill, Iowans who need to carry a gun for their job could get a permit starting at 18. Otherwise, applicants would have to be 21 to get a non-professional permit. Permits could be denied for alcohol addiction or probable cause based on documentation of past actions that an applicant might use a weapon in a way to endanger himself, others or the public safety. Anyone convicted of misdemeanor assault within the prior three years could be denied a permit. Several other federal and state disqualifiers apply.
The permit fee would increase from $10 to $50 for five years with a $25 renewal fee. Although training would be required to obtain a permit, permit holders could qualify on a firing range to renew their permits.
In addition, this legislation will increase the term of a permit from one year to five years; narrow the disqualifying circumstances for a permit to the federal minimum in most cases, while at the same time further narrowing state-specific disqualifiers; prevent the issuing officer from placing limits on or restricting the scope of a carry permit; ensure that denials, suspensions and revocations of permits would be subject to both administrative and judicial review; grant recognition to all valid out-of-state permits; broaden the types of training that would fulfill the state-mandated training requirement for permit applicants; and remove other over-reaching restrictions on gun owners in Iowa, according to the NRA.
“This is a truly big day,” said Rep. Clel Baudler, R-Greenfield, a retired state trooper who has been working on the issue for 12 years. He called standardization of 99 sets of rules a “fairness issue.”