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Officials say So Far, So Good with New Law Allowing Firearms at the Capitol

John Pemble/IPR file
Iowa Capitol

Iowans with permits to carry handguns can now bring their weapons into the Iowa statehouse under a new state law that’s been in effect since July 1st.   

Statehouse security officers say so far enforcement has gone well.   

Only a few people have displayed their permits and been allowed to enter with a concealed pistol or revolver.   

Since shortly after the September 11 terror attacks, anyone entering the Iowa statehouse has been required to leave their guns or knives behind.  

Now with a permit to carry you can bring in a pistol or revolver.  

But you can’t just flash a permit and get waived through.   

We want to make sure everyone has that opportunity to carry that weapon. -Lead Security Guard Dave Garrison

“They’ll need to remove their handgun, set it aside, pass through the magnetometer, display their permit, then reholster their handgun,” says Ross Loder at the Iowa Department of Public Safety who helped train 12 security guards ahead of the July 1st implementation.

So far guards say only two gunowners have taken advantage of the new law.

“I thought we’d have a lot more people by now with weapons permits,” says security guard Jerry McCurdy, a former state trooper.

The training includes how to recognize a valid permit.  

One gunowner who appeared to be testing the new law showed up on day one.  

Credit Joyce Russell/IPR
Sign at west entrance of Iowa Statehouse

“The first Saturday the law took effect on July 1, a gentleman came in and wanted  to see  how the law was going to work,” McCurdy says. 

McCurdy says the man was admitted at the west entrance of the capitol with his weapon and additional ammunition, which is allowed. The same man later reappeared and was admitted again at the south entrance.     

On another day, a Florida man was admitted with his weapon as required by the law after showing his Florida permit and a Florida driver’s license.

Lead Security Guard Dave Garrison says guards will try to handle each situation so onlookers aren’t unduly alarmed by the sight of a weapon.

“Especially when there are school kids present, we’ll try to bring the individual off to the side,” Garrison says. “We don't want to embarrass anybody and we don't want to cause any concern for anyone else."

I don't know why someone would want to come to the capitol armed. -Statehouse Visitor Sarah Bochmann

“It is the law,” Garrison adds. “We want to make sure everyone has that opportunity to carry that weapon.”

New signs at the entrances advise visitors of the new law.

Sarah Bochmann from Des Moines was at the capitol recently with her two children and two neighbor kids.  

Bochmann cites the recent shooting at a baseball practice in suburban Washington, DC, that critically wounded a member of Congress.   

She sees why an elected officials might want to be armed. But she questions extending that to everyone.

“I think people should have a right to arm themselves, but they should be respectful of the other people who are here,” Bochmann says. “I don’t know why someone would want to come into the capitol armed."

“Good and bad things could come out of it I guess,” says high school student Zander Britain of Montaur.

Britain imagines a scenario where an armed person with evil intent manages to enter the building. In that case he says law-abiding gun owners should be able to defend themselves.   

Credit Joyce Russell/IPR
Security Checkpoint, Iowa Statehouse

In debate on the bill back in April, Rep. Matt Windschitl (R-Missouri Valley) made a similar point.  

“If anyone thinks the metal detectors downstairs are providing us with security you’re looking at life through rose-colored glasses,” Windschitl said. “Anybody can come up to the first floor, prop open a door that does not have an alarm, and anybody can get into this building with any type of weapon. We should not be disarming citizens at the door."

“The capitol is a leaky building,” agrees Iowa Firearms Coalition lobbyist Richard Rogers.

We should not be disarming citizens at the door. -Rep. Matt Windschitl (R-Missouri Valley)

“We make regular checks of all the exterior doors,” says Lead Security Guard Dave Garrison.

Regardless of how one views the law, it appears that Iowa is not out of step with the rest of the country.

“To the extent you can say there's any trend it seems to be toward allowing carry in state capitols rather than away from allowing carry in state capitols,” Ross Loder says.

Some states are more permissive than others.

Texas, for example, allows gun owners to carry their weapons into the statehouse without concealing them.   

An earlier version of the Iowa law also allowed open carrying of weapons into the capitol, but that was eliminated in the final draft.

Also in Texas, gun owners can gain entrance to the capitol without going through security by simply showing a permit. Some Texans are reportedly acquiring permits just so they can get into the capitol quickly and not have to stand in line at the metal detector.