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Local Officials Grapple With New Iowa Law Allowing Guns In Public Buildings

lee county courthouse
Katarina Sostaric
South Lee County Courthouse in Keokuk

Local officials across Iowa are grappling with how to respond to a new state law that says cities and counties must allow guns in buildings under their control unless they provide armed security guards.

The Republican-led legislature passed the bill in early June, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed it into law June 25, and the law went into effect July 1.

Doug Bailey, chair of the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors, said he would prefer to keep guns out of the county courthouse.

“It’s really difficult to understand how the common good is served by this legislation,” Bailey said. “In the larger counties and cities, some already have in place the monitoring at the doors…but counties the size of Hamilton certainly have not. And cities the size of Webster City have not.”

He said their county courthouse holds several different county offices, including the sheriff’s, which they’ve relied on to handle any disturbances in the building. But the new law would require additional armed security to continue banning guns inside, and Bailey’s not sure if Hamilton County can afford that.

“And of course, there’s no funding coming from the state to pay for it or acknowledge there’s a cost,” Bailey said. “And that may be a part of it. You don’t have to do anything, so just let people come in with their weapons.”

He said he’s worried about county workers feeling threatened by people coming in with firearms.

Bailey said all he’s been able to do so far is remove the “no weapons” signs from the courthouse entrances as the board of supervisors waits for the results of a security audit.

“It’s just more encroachment on local control,” Bailey said.

Groups representing cities and counties opposed the bill as it was moving through the legislature.

Iowa League of Cities Executive Director Alan Kemp says his organization opposed it because they prioritize local control.

“Cities would have preferred to have retained the authority to make the decision that they are most comfortable with for their city and their facilities, because that’s going to change from community to community,” Kemp said.

Kemp said city leaders are still learning about what this means for them and what buildings the law applies to.

“How far reaching is this? Smaller cities have a city hall but larger cities have multiple facilities,” Kemp said. “Does it apply to all of them? Does it apply to facilities where the public is not invited on a regular basis?”

He said most cities probably won’t feel that they can afford armed security.

“Cost is clearly a factor,” Kemp said. “Cities are already run on lean budget, probably more so given the economic disruption that we’ve seen with this pandemic.”

Some local officials welcomed the new law.

The Iowa Firearms Coalition posted a video of Jasper County Supervisor Brandon Talsma removing a sign that reads, “No firearms or weapons allowed on this property,” from the door of the courthouse in Newton.

“If you want no firearms in your courthouse, you have to guarantee it is a 100 percent safe space. Putting a sticker on the door saying ‘no guns’ is not creating a safe space whatsoever,” Talsma said. “We are happy to take these signs down. After all, this is the people’s building, not ours.”

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter