Government

Few changes planned for armed visitors at Des Moines Capitol building

New law allows concealed weapons inside, with proper permits

A legislative security officer at the Iowa Capitol uses a hand-held wand to detect metal on a visitor who set off the alarm on the magnetometer at a Statehouse entrance Dec. 1. (Rod Boshart/The Gazette)
A legislative security officer at the Iowa Capitol uses a hand-held wand to detect metal on a visitor who set off the alarm on the magnetometer at a Statehouse entrance Dec. 1. (Rod Boshart/The Gazette)
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After Thanksgiving, “the air in this place changes,” Carmine Boal says about the Iowa Capitol, where she already is seeing an uptick in activity as lawmakers and staff prepare for the 2018 legislative session.

Boal, a member of the Iowa House for 10 years and chief clerk of the House for five sessions, is dealing with personnel changes as well as a new computer program. She also found time to fit in active shooter training.

“It made me feel better,” Boal said about the training by the Iowa State Patrol, which advised Capitol employees what to do in the event of an “armed encounter.”

Iowa State Patrol Capt. Mark Logsdon has offered the training in most Capitol Complex offices. In light of legislation approved earlier this year allowing people to carry concealed weapons in the Capitol, he offered it to employees there.

Craig Cronbaugh has never felt unsafe in the 20 years he’s worked in the Legislative Information Office on the ground floor of the Capitol. He’s seen people get upset about legislation, “but it never gets out of hand. They’re just reacting to what they believe in.”

Like Boal, he found the armed encounter training helpful.

“I’m not sure whether anyone will be able to go back to the training or they’ll be scared clueless if someone actually points a gun at them,” Cronbaugh said. But it’s helpful to know what to do — and not to do — if there is an active shooter in the building.

“One of the most important things they told us was not to crawl under your desk and box yourself in,” he said.

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They were told, he said, to try to flee first, attack second. Hiding under the desk was the third strategy.

Logsdon, who oversees the Iowa State Patrol Post 16 that provides security at the Capitol, isn’t planning any changes in response to the likelihood of more armed people visiting the Statehouse.

Over the years, some lawmakers have acknowledged or hinted that they have carried handguns. Lawmakers and Capitol staff don’t go through the security gates like other Iowans.

Under the new law, Iowa joins 20 other states that officially allow some form of legal firearm carry for either visitors, legislators, employees or all of the above, according to the Crime Prevention Research Center.

The center reported it knows of two times a handgun has misfired in a state capitol, and a handful of instances in which lawmakers temporarily misplaced their weapons.

At the Iowa Capitol, a visitor carrying a weapon must have it completely concealed and show the permit to security officers staffing the entrance gates.

So far, that hasn’t been a problem, according to lead legislative security Officer Dave Garrison. About two people a week have brought handguns into the Capitol so far, he said.

Garrison, a retired trooper who led Capitol security when the magnetometers were installed at the entrances after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, expects the number to increase in January when the Legislature convenes for its next session.

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He’ll add an additional security officer at the entrance gates during peak times to keep the foot traffic moving. Visitors with handguns will have to present their carry permit and the security officers will determine whether the gun in on their person or in a bag.

“We want to be discreet so that we don’t make someone else uncomfortable,” he said.

The new law makes some people feel safer because there will be more “good guys’ in the Capitol with weapons, Boal said.

She and Cronbaugh have heard some employees talking about arming themselves — “more in jest, I think,” Boal said.

Others see the likelihood of more armed people creating more opportunities for bad to happen, they said.

“The Capitol is a workplace that is more volatile than others,” Boal said.

Logsdon agreed that emotions can run high at the Capitol. Hot-button issues such as collective bargaining, abortion and water quality drew large, passionate crowds to the Capitol this year.

“That’s why we try to be present,” Logsdon said. “It adds a little bit of concern when people are carrying. The best we can do is have a good uniform presence.”

His goal is to “always try to be sure we have a safe place where people can have their voice heard,” Logsdon said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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