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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
As Iowa lawmakers debated a gun rights bill this past legislative session, critics issued some dire warnings. Without requiring Iowans to get government permission to buy and carry firearms, they said, the state would devolve into lawlessness.
Under consideration was a proposal to modernize Iowa’s gun permit system, making permits to carry or acquire guns optional.
“This bill bans or kills background checks in this state, there's no doubt about it,” state Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, said on the Iowa House floor this spring.
The Legislature passed the bill — known as “constitutional carry” or “permitless carry” — along party lines and it took effect July 1. Iowans now may purchase and carry weapons without a permission slip from the state.
In a surprise to no one who’s paying attention, the doomsayers in the Democratic Party were wrong. Weeks after the law went into effect, it turns out the government still is running a lot of background checks on Iowa gun buyers.
Now that we have a full month of data since Iowa’s law took hold last month, we can start assessing the effects. I gathered numbers on gun permits and background checks from the Iowa Department of Public Safety and the FBI for July for each of five years for comparison.
There are two sets of pertinent figures: permits and background checks. In Iowa, permits to acquire or carry weapons are processed by county sheriffs and tracked by the state. Nationally, background checks — which are required for all sales by federally licensed dealers to customers without a permit — are run through a federal system.
The state last month issued about 4,000 non-professional permits to carry. That’s down from about 8,300 during last year’s gun boom, but higher than the same periods for the other three previous years on record.
So, even though permits are not required to carry guns, the number of people seeking carry permits exceeds pre-2020 levels. Iowans might still seek carry permits because it allows them to carry in some other states or because they think they would benefit from the required training course.
The bigger shift under the “constitutional carry” law has been the dramatic decrease in permits to acquire handguns. Under previous law, Iowans were required to get their local sheriff’s approval before buying a pistol or revolver, whether or not they planned to carry it.
Iowa last month issued only 221 permits to acquire. That’s a huge drop from about 1,500 in July 2020 and fewer than half as many as the 640 permits issued on average those months from 2017 through 2019.
At the same time, the number of federal background checks run on Iowa handgun buyers shot through the roof. The FBI reported about 4,000 such checks last month, compared with a total of just 531 in July of the previous four years combined.
Permits to acquire handguns plummeted while background checks for handguns hit an unprecedented high. It’s hard to draw firm conclusions from limited data, but one explanation is latent demand for handguns.
In other words, there might have been thousands of people who wanted a gun and can pass a background check but didn’t want to go through the hassle of submitting paperwork at the sheriff’s office. Now that the requirement has been lifted, these law-abiding Americans are finally getting their guns. You love to see it.
What’s not tracked in any of this data is gun transactions with no licensed dealer involved. Fearmongering Democrats said the relaxed permitting process would give rise to seedy characters pushing guns in back alleys. The truth is that such transactions were already happening, and there is no way to track them.
As a staunch proponent of gun rights, I have to say I am a little disappointed at the effects of the law so far. I was told Iowa would turn into the wild West, but I have yet to see a single six shooter on the street nor even a saloon brawl.
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