State expert: Iowa sheriffs have little discretion in issuing permits to acquire weapons

Johnson County sheriff contacted alleged North Liberty shooter's counselor

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When UI graduate student Taleb Salameh applied for a permit to acquire a weapon in February 2010, the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office had little discretion in whether or not to approve it.

University of Iowa officials at the time asked Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek to hold off on issuing the requested permit to Salameh – who was killed Sunday in a shootout with North Liberty police. But Ross Loder, chief of the Iowa Department of Public Safety’s Program Services Bureau, said sheriffs don’t have much discretion in making that call.

“The permit to acquire has been ‘shall issue’ for as long as it has existed,” Loder said. “The sheriff would have had little discretion if he could legally acquire a firearm.”

Prohibiting factors include felony convictions, unlawful drug use or addiction, domestic protection orders, and aggravated misdemeanors involving a firearm or explosives. Unlike with a permit to carry, a person is not precluded from obtaining a permit to acquire if they are addicted to alcohol or if the sheriff has reason to believe he or she would use the weapon unlawfully.

Still, based on UI concerns, Salameh – who applied for a permit to acquire a in February 2010 – was told to get a letter from his psychologist saying it was OK for him to have a gun before his permit was approved, Pulkrabek said. A letter from the therapist was returned to the Sheriff’s Office on June 22, 2010, backing Salameh’s ability to purchase a weapon.

“Mr. Salameh is not showing any indications of impulse-control or substance-abuse problems,” Gregory L. Gullickson, licensed psychologist, wrote in the letter. “He has reported feeling in a significantly improved mood for several months now, and I can see no reason that he not be allowed to obtain a permit to own firearms.”

Gullickson acknowledged that concerns with Salameh’s depression and anxiety, along with an altercation in which he hit another person, led him to receive counseling. But he wrote in his letter to the Sheriff’s Office that “at no time during his treatment with me has he shown any indication that he poses any threat to anyone.”

Pulkrabek said he signed off on Salameh’s permit to acquire on June 28, 2010. The permit, because of when he first applied for it, was officially dated February 2010 to February 2011.

Salameh reapplied in 2011 and was issued another permit to acquire. That permit expired in 2012, but a person doesn’t have to hold an active permit to acquire in order to keep a gun once they’ve lawfully bought it.

North Liberty police responded to Salameh’s mobile home at 238 Holiday Lodge Road just before 6 p.m. Sunday in response to a 911 domestic disturbance call. Gunshots were exchanged shortly after their arrival, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

Three officers were hit by bullets and taken to the UI Hospitals and Clinics, where they were treated and released for non-life threatening injuries. A female victim who was in the residence was not injured in the shooting.

Salameh, who was 28 and studying mechanical engineering at the UI, died at the scene. He began at the UI in 2005 and graduated in 2009, when he began his education as a graduate student, according to UI spokesman Tom Moore.

Records made public this week articulate UI officials’ concerns with Salameh’s request to acquire a gun.

“I have serious reservations about Mr. Salameh’s intention to purchase a handgun,” UI Associate Vice President for Student Services David Grady wrote in a letter to the Sheriff’s Office in March 2010. “The public state crime website lists numerous criminal convictions over the years, several of which were alcohol-related. In addition, Mr. Salameh was involved in an assault on a student that took place in another state in February, 2009.”

In the letter, Grady asked the Sheriff’s Office to wait to approve Salameh’s request for a weapons permit until 2011, as they expected he would complete his degree in 2010.

Salameh’s criminal history in Iowa includes numerous convictions for driving and alcohol offenses, theft and trespassing. He was arrested in 2009 on suspicion of public intoxication and assault causing injury.

The UI Police Department on Tuesday released a report for a 2007 arrest on suspicion of public intoxication. In the report, police say Salameh was seen stealing money from a tip jar inside Pizza on Dubuque and was visibly intoxicated.

Salameh has never been convicted of a felony, but a Johnson County judge in February issued a temporary protective order against Salameh. The petition eventually was dismissed.

Pulkrabek said authorities are investigating the weapons used in Sunday’s shooting, and they’re trying to determine when and where they were purchased. Right now, Pulkrabek said, it doesn’t appear Salameh was in violation of any gun laws at the time of his death.

Some states don’t require a permit to acquire a weapon, but Iowa law does, said Loder, with the Department of Public Safety.

He said a permit to acquire is different from a permit to carry in that it’s a one-year permit that comes with different standards. A person with a permit to acquire can take a weapon outside his or her home, as long as it’s properly contained. And hunters, for example, don’t have to have a permit to carry, he said.

“You can do more than leave the gun in your house and still not get to the point where you need to have a permit to carry,” he said.

Details about who fired the gunshots and how Salameh died on Sunday have not been made public. Pulkrabek said the investigation is ongoing, including whether anyone should face charges in connection with the shooting.

Salameh Letter by

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