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Most Iowans applying for gun permits get the OK

Published: Monday, March 11, 2013 12:04 p.m. CDT

DES MOINES (AP) — A newspaper reported Sunday that the majority of Iowans who have applied for a gun permit in the past two years have been approved under a state law that some sheriffs say hinders their power to say no.

More than 148,000 people in the state have applied for a permit since a 2011 state law went into effect, the Des Moines Register reported. About 620 permit applications have been denied, which means there’s a 99.6 percent approval rating.

The newspaper’s analysis of public records from the state’s 99 county sheriffs also shows there’s an increase of more than 100,000 Iowa residents with a permit to carry or conceal a weapon since 2011.

The state law requires all sheriffs to follow the same rules when issuing permits. Some county sheriffs are concerned it’s hindering their ability to deny permits to people who should not have guns. Some said the law has loopholes and unintended consequences.

“The law has circumvented the sheriffs’ abilities to deny a weapons permit as in the past and has tied our hands when it comes to common sense,” said Chickasaw County Sheriff Todd Miller.

Several sheriffs said they’re concerned about the law’s take on mental health. There are gaps in reports aimed at alerting authorities of gun applicants with serious mental issues, according to them.

The newspaper reported Iowa’s law incorporates federal laws on mental illness, which includes anyone being involuntarily committed to a mental institution is prohibited from possessing a firearm.

But some sheriffs said the law doesn’t prevent guns from being given to people who may hurt themselves. Davis County Sheriff Dave Davis said he recently denied a permit based on personal knowledge of an applicant’s mental health issues. The applicant’s history didn’t turn up on a federal database.

Sheriffs can deny a permit if they have probable cause to believe a person could use a weapon to hurt themselves or others. But public records show some of those people have appealed the decision and won.

Story County Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald told state lawmakers recently at a legislative hearing that he granted a carry permit to a man known to be suicidal. He said nothing in Iowa law legally excludes the person from the right to carry a gun.

“If a tragedy does happen with that individual in my county, it’s going to come back,” he told lawmakers.

Sheriffs previously were allowed to deny a weapons permit for almost any reason. Some complained officials were overzealous with the power, and gun advocates said arbitrary permit denials violated an individual’s constitutional rights.

The new law, backed by dozens of sheriffs, was supported by the National Rifle Association. They say it protects Iowa residents’ Second Amendment rights.

Gun advocates said the law is working, and said some problems noted by sheriffs are impossible to assess. They also said people determined to harm others often don’t bother to get a gun permit anyway.

“I suspect we’re talking about a very tiny number of cases,” said Richard Rogers, a board member of the Iowa Firearms Coalition.

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