Sheriffs still getting accustomed to Iowa 'shall issue' firearms rule

2012-03-25T13:15:00Z 2012-03-25T14:52:01Z Sheriffs still getting accustomed to Iowa 'shall issue' firearms ruleBy MIKE WISER, Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier
March 25, 2012 1:15 pm  • 

DES MOINES, Iowa --- Sheriff Kevin Pals had to mull this one over a bit.

On one hand, the 21-year-old in front of Pals was well within his rights to apply for a firearm permit in Cerro Gordo County.

On the other, a background check turned up more than 50 contacts between the applicant and the police in the past year-and-a-half. He was a suspect in a burglary and connected to a few other cases. He just seemed to be around when mischief was happening.

Permit denied.

"He took me to the appeals process," Pals said. "The administrative law judge agreed with him. He got the permit."

It was the only time Pals has been challenged on a permit denial since Iowa's "shall issue" law took effect more than a year ago.

Since that time, sheriff's offices across the state have been issuing more permits. But several departments in some of the state's most populous counties have been denying permits much more frequently, too.

"Frankly, it's getting to the point where I think I might have to make an example out of some of them," Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson said.

Thompson denied 38 permit applications last year and 10 so far this year. That's up from three denials in 2009 and two in 2010.

Thompson is frustrated because he thinks people who know they aren't supposed to have a permit are using "shall issue" as an excuse to try to obtain a firearm permit.

"We have people who fill out an application and say they have no felonies," Thompson said.

"Then we do the background check and right there on the front page of (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) there's a felony conviction."

Falsifying the permit application is a Class D felony. Thompson said he lets applicants know that when he rejects their application, but he has yet to ask the county attorney's office to apply the charge.

Linn County Sheriff Brian Gardner has, and that case is pending. The Linn County denials increased from 17 in 2009 to 31 in 2010 to 44 in 2011. Statistics aren't available for this year.

"I think most of it is a misunderstanding of the law," Gardner said. "People who don't realize that the felony they received a long time ago still prohibits them from obtaining a firearm."

Gardner is in his first term as sheriff and "shall issue" became a campaign issue in his run for office. Gardner said he supports "shall issue" now as he did during his run, but he would like to see the training requirement strengthened.

"Right now, someone can take a course online --- they don't even have to handle a firearm --- print out the certificate, and I have to accept that as training," he said.

State Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, thinks the increase in denials is the fault of people who thought "shall issue" meant anybody who wants a permit could get one.

"They don't understand the law. If they have a felony in their background, they can't get a firearm," he said. "What's happening is the process is working as it was intended. People who are not supposed to be carrying a weapon are not supposed to be issued permits. That's exactly why we set it up the way that we did."

Muscatine County Sheriff Dave White agrees.

"The bulk of them are just misunderstanding what had occurred with their sentence," he said. "Somebody maybe received a pardon or they were able to get their voting rights back, but you don't always get your firearms back."

White's office denied 10 permits in 2011, more than double the number in 2010. Like Gardner and Thompson, White said he would like to see some more stringent training requirements, but the effect of "shall issue" has been "no problem at all."

Dennis Conard, sheriff in Scott County, shared a similar sentiment. His department has more than doubled the number of permits issued from 2,533 in 2010 to 5,851 in 2011. It also doubled the denials from two to four.

"It just hasn't been an issue here," Conard said.

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