Public Safety

Iowa legislators plug gun permit glitch

Justices ruled earlier law allowed applicants to lie

Sen. Dan Dawson, R-Council Bluffs
Sen. Dan Dawson, R-Council Bluffs

Before they went home last Saturday, lawmakers quickly amended the state’s gun permit law after the Iowa Supreme Court ruled sheriffs couldn’t ask questions about an applicant’s criminal record.

The court ruled April 14 that the law’s language was unclear but that gun permit seekers should have to answer only questions about their identity — name, address, birth date and driver’s license or identification card number. Other questions, such as whether the applicant is a felon, were not permitted, the court ruled.

Ross Loder, the Iowa Department of Public Safety’s bureau chief for weapon permits, said he immediately emailed Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, and Sen. Dan Dawson, R-Council Bluffs, after the ruling to let them know it was easy to fix that if they wanted to do so.

Stephen Schmidt / The Gazette

“Nobody has picked up on that issue before,” Loder said.

It was James R. Downey, 51, of Johnson County, who challenged questions accompanying applications for permits to acquire handguns.

Downey submitted an application Jan. 14, 2015. He verified his identity and then answered 10 questions accompanying the application, including if he had been convicted of a felony. He answered no.

He also gave permission for Johnson County authorities to run a criminal-background check on him. The check showed Downey had been convicted of a felony — third-offense drunken driving.

Downey was then charged and convicted of making a false statement, but he appealed. He argued the law didn’t allow the Iowa Department of Public Safety, which creates the forms, to ask questions beyond the basic identity ones.

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Justices agreed, saying applicants shouldn’t be asked those 10 additional questions and therefore couldn’t be convicted of lying.

Loder said he offered his advice to change the language for gun permits to mirror the requirements for carry permits.

Someone convicted of a felony isn’t eligible for a carry permit. If a applicant lies on that form, Loder said, he or she faces a felony charge.

A sweeping gun law passed and signed into law earlier this month includes a provision extending permits to acquire handguns from one to five years.

“One of our primary goals in the gun omnibus bill was to consolidate and standardize the permit system here in Iowa,” Sen. Dawson said. “The Downey (court ruling) didn’t support what our legislative intent has been this year, so we ensured during our final legislative action that this contradiction in the code was addressed.”

The 10 questions would remain on gun permit applications. But that provision won’t go into effect until July 1.

“It’s not efficient to change the applications” before then, Loder said. “They have to be changed anyway because of the new gun laws that were passed” before the court ruling.”

In the interim, law enforcement agencies can mark out the questions on the current forms, or, if the applicants answer the questions, the answers will be disregarded, Loder said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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