116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Every day, Larry 'Buck” Koos relives the events of Sept. 9, 2014.
A former Jackson County supervisor, Koos said he daily recalls being in the Maquoketa courthouse. He hears the gunshot, remembers tackling the shooter to the ground. He hears a second gunshot - the assailant killing himself.
'Every day,” said Koos, who escaped with only minor injuries. 'It's just something that ... yeah, every day.”
Koos possesses a rare perspective of gun violence in Iowa's public buildings, having lived through that incident. And Koos says he is concerned with a new state law that allows Iowans to sue local governments if they feel 'adversely affected” by any ban on firearms in public buildings, including county courthouses.
The provision was approved this year by Republican majorities in the Legislature and signed into law by Republican Gov. Terry Branstad. It was part of a broad gun bill that included changes to Iowa's gun regulations, including the addition of a 'stand your ground” measure that expands the rights of people to use deadly force if they believe they're in danger.
Local gun bans at public buildings that differ from state law have been prohibited since 1990, but such bans have nonetheless been implemented and have gone largely unchallenged.
The new law maintains the prohibition of local gun bans but adds a provision that creates an avenue for Iowans to sue local governments that impose the bans.
That new provision drew concern and criticism from local officials - like sheriffs, judges and county attorneys - who work in the public buildings and deal with accused criminals and emotional cases.
Koos was a supervisor for 12 years until losing his re-election bid this past November. He now works in the courthouse in a different capacity. He said he agrees with those who have reservations with the new law.
Koos said he does not believe more people carrying guns would have made the Jackson County Courthouse any safer the day of the shooting. He said it might have made it worse.
'I don't know what the outcome would have been, what would have been different about it if everybody would have pulled a gun out and started shooting,” Koos said. 'If I had a gun, would I have pulled a gun? I don't know. I just think I'm glad I wasn't in that position to make that decision. ... I just think it would be chaos.”
Security has been upgraded at the Jackson County Courthouse after the 2014 shooting. Its security camera system was updated, and security guards have a central kiosk with monitors that show activity throughout the building.
Some other Iowa courthouses, like in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, have metal detectors and deputies at the entrances.
Koos said he fears the new law could undermine security. He agrees with the myriad other public officials who have said they are concerned the new law could open the door for citizens to carry guns into public buildings where emotions often run high.
Koos said he understands the argument that a gun ban may not deter an individual who is determined to bring a firearm into a public building, but said he thinks a ban could keep guns out of a situation where an individual becomes angry in a moment of high emotion or stress.
The shooter in the 2014 incident was upset about his property tax assessment and fired at the assessor, but missed.
'Bad guys are going to bring in a gun no matter what. I get those arguments,” Koos said. 'I'm afraid of people who are not so bad but in the heat of the moment get a sentence handed down or find out they don't get custody of their children, and all of a sudden they have a gun at their side.”
A similar story produced another high-profile incident., In 1986, a homeowner upset about sewer backup shot and killed Mount Pleasant Mayor Edd King during a City Council meeting.
Those Mount Pleasant and Jackson County incidents should not be used as arguments against the new law, said Richard Rogers, with the Iowa Firearms Coalition, the gun rights group that helped draft the legislation. Rogers said he supports heightened security designed to prevent such events, but not restrictions on individuals' rights to carry firearms.
He noted the law that prohibits local gun bans was approved in 1990, a few years after the Mount Pleasant incident.
'I'm not anti-security, I'm anti-false sense of security and violating people's rights,” he said.
Rogers said he does not think responsible gun owners would use a gun for offense in public buildings, nor does he think bans prevent determined individuals from bringing in guns.
'The idea that just because someone has a firearm on them, assuming they're legally carrying, there's very little reason to expect those people are just going to go off,” Rogers said. 'While it's certainly possible, it just doesn't happen.
'What might happen is someone who is already unstable and already has a beef with the county or city or state, and they come armed, even if that person did happen to have a permit (to carry a gun) if all you're having is a sign, you're not going to deter them anyway.”
For Koos, whose feelings are shaped in large part by that traumatic incident, banning guns in public buildings is worth the effort to keep people there safe.
'I have maybe a different outlook than other people,” Koos said. 'I guess the day of the shooting, one gun was one too many.”