Friday, February 29, 2008

Bill Would Bring Uniformity To Iowa Weapons Law

Here in Iowa there are armed strangers among us. They could be lurking in our shopping malls, at busy intersections or even near playgrounds, their deadly firearms hidden from view… waiting.

This is how the press usually portrays Iowa’s rather unremarkable weapons permit regime, when they mention it at all. However, the fact that most Iowans probably don’t even know that the state issues permits to their friends and neighbors to carry concealed firearms, and has for years, is a testament to what a non-threat these law-abiding gun bearers are to the public.

Iowa is one of 40 states (often called right-to-carry or RTC states) that issues such permits to its citizens to defend themselves in public. There were only 10 RTC states until 1987. That year Florida introduced its own RTC law and it was a big success. Despite dire predictions of a bloodbath from anti-gunners, from 1987 to 1992 Florida’s murder rate fell by 23% while the national average shot up 9%.

Inspired by Florida’s success, 29 states have since enacted RTC legislation. A 1996 study found that states which passed concealed carry laws reduced their rate of murder by 8.5%, rape by 5%, aggravated assault by 7% and robbery by 3%, without an increase in accidental deaths. In 2005 RTC states had lower average violent crime rates compared to the rest of the country (total violent crime by 22%; murder, 30%; robbery, 46%; and aggravated assault, 12%).

Not all RTC states are the same however. Two states, Vermont and Alaska, require no permit or training to carry firearms openly or concealed. 36 of the 40 have “shall issue” carry laws which require that carry permits be issued to applicants who meet uniform standards established by the state. Iowa, on the other hand, has a “discretionary-issue,” also known as a “may issue” carry permit system. This means that the issuing authority (in Iowa’s case that’s the county sheriff) “may issue” the permit to an applicant who meets the requirements.

Our discretionary-issue system has led to a patchwork quilt of restrictions and qualifications in Iowa’s 99 counties. Some counties require extensive training of its applicants while others require very minimal training. Some sheriffs issue permits to all qualified applicants, while others refuse to issue them at all. This map provided by shows the relative degree of difficulty in getting a concealed weapons permit for each county in Iowa. (Red are the most restrictive, yellow are average, and green are the least restrictive.)

A new bill (HF 2092) in the Iowa Legislature seeks to remedy this situation. It would standardize training requirements statewide and require the sheriff to issue permits to qualified applicants, who also must pass background checks. It would also grant reciprocity, recognizing RTC permits from other states, like we do with other states drivers licenses. The bill would also provide issuing sheriffs with immunity from liability for any potential (yet unlikely) damages caused by a permit holder. While the bill does contain compromises (a necessity in purple-state Iowa) it is an improvement over the current system in that it provides uniform standards for the entire state.

HF 2092 is currently before the House Public Safety Committee. Committee members can be reached via snail mail, email, or the House general number 515-281-3221. Iowa gun owners and anyone who cares about equal application of laws in the state should contact them and tell them to support HF 2092.

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