Concealed weapon carry permits ‘on the rise’ since 2011
More Jefferson County residents hold permits to carry concealed weapons than ever before, says outgoing sheriff of 12 years, Jerry Droz.
The trend follows a change to Iowa’s gun laws in 2010 from a “may carry” state to a “shall carry” state for concealed weapons. Today, 4.6 percent of Iowans hold concealed carry permits as opposed to 1.3 percent in 2010, according to The Associated Press.
Droz said he’s issued carry permits to more than 700 Jefferson County residents since the law went into full effect January of 2011.
“Ever since the ‘shall issue’ law passed, it’s been on the rise,” said Droz.
Droz has been a vocal opponent of the law, which has rendered him unable to deny a permit to individuals he knows struggle with mental illness, but who do not appear in his database as having undergone psychiatric treatment due to a court order or an involuntarily committal.
“We’ve lost the ability to take input from family and friends,” he said. “If they [applicants] have not been adjudicated, there’s not much you can do but issue them a gun permit.”
According to newly elected sheriff Gregg Morton, the sheriff’s office used to issue “significantly less” carry permits. Droz had complete discretion and was able to weigh the applicant’s need for such a permit. After the law passed, Morton said, need was no longer relevant.
“Right when the law changed, there was an influx of people coming in exercising their Second Amendment rights,” said Morton.
Concealed carry permits last five years and require completion of a training course. A permit to acquire must be renewed annually.
While the 2010 law liberalized the issuance of gun permits, it also implemented a better tracking system for mental health disqualifications, according to Ross Loder, bureau chief of the Iowa Department of Public Safety.
The federal Gun Control Act of 1968 prohibits mentally ill people from owning a gun only if they have been involuntarily committed or declared mentally unfit by a court. But until recently, Iowa has not had a tool to track such disqualifiers.
Each time a resident applies for a permit to acquire or to carry a concealed weapon in the state of Iowa, the sheriff’s office uses the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System test. The test sends out several queries to databases holding information such as criminal history and mental health. A provision in the 2010 law mandated the Iowa Department of Public Safety to forward disqualifying mental health information to the FBI.
Loder said Iowa’s provision is in keeping with a federal push to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill after the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007.
Loder said the NICS Index is the only avenue for sheriffs to learn of a mental health disqualification without violating the applicant’s privacy.
“There are very tight controls to gain access to the information,” said Loder. “There is no other acceptable use or authorized use.”
Jefferson County clerk of court Barbara Droz, who handles local committals, said under no circumstance would she release mental health information to the sheriff’s office.
“We don’t release any information regarding committals,” she said. “We can’t even talk about them on the phone, they’re that confidential.”
Loder said the FBI database does not record a person’s medical history, only his or her identifying information.
“It doesn’t say details of the condition,” said Loder. “The system itself is extremely effective and reliable, and allows us to see if a person is federally prohibited.”
However, he said the search is not all encompassing.
“Whether someone has been committed since January 2011 is an entirely different question than if a person is mentally fit to carry a gun,” said Loder.
Droz and Morton said it can be especially frustrating in a small community where they may have knowledge of an older committal, but no record appears in the NICS index.
“If it’s not on paper, it’s like it didn’t happen,” said Morton.
Morton said the law leaves him little authority, but just as much responsibility if residents misuse their permits.
“If something happens, my head is still the first head on the chopping block,” he said.
Droz said community feedback was a resource he was sad to lose.
“When you have family coming in saying, ‘I don’t feel they’re stable to have a gun,’ but you have no choice but to issue it, it makes an officer very concerned for public safety,” said Droz.