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Iowa Residents Flock to Sheriffs Office for Gun Permits

Iowa Residents Flock to Sheriffs Office for Gun Permits

Polk County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Jana Rooker said the department received 308 applications Monday for nonprofessional permits to carry weapons. [Video Capture]

Des Moines Register

January 05, 2011

Several Iowa sheriffs’ offices reported receiving 10 to 20 times as many weapons permit applications on Monday as they do most days.

Monday was the first day government offices were open since Saturday, when a law took effect that requires sheriffs under most circumstances to issue permits to carry concealed weapons. Sheriffs previously had greater discretion to deny or restrict such permits.

In Polk County, 308 gun owners – or soon-to-be gun owners – appeared Monday to apply for permits or renewals. Clerks at the headquarters office said they typically had handed out about 300 applications in a month.

Tuesday, lines were not as long.

“You’re seeing just pent-up demand,” said John Pierce, co-founder of, a national Internet advocate for laws that let people carry weapons openly. “What you have is a lot of citizens who the knew the sheriff could turn them down for any reason or no reason at all. … So they simply didn’t try.”

News reports have generated intense interest, Pierce said. Polk County Deputy Sheriff Jana Rooker agreed that publicity may have contributed to the run on the permit window.

Clerks worked through their lunch hours, and many stayed until 7 p.m. to process paperwork. Officials said they took in more than $15,000.

Officials in Polk and other counties said they got as many applications as they normally would in two weeks to a month.

The permits are popular because people can no longer be arbitrarily denied and because more people are eligible for the required training, said Sean McClanahan, president of the Iowa Firearms Coalition, formerly Iowa Carry. He said that’s the case even in Polk County, where the sheriff had a reputation for granting almost all permits.

At the Iowa firearms group’s picnic last summer, a trainer taught several hundred Iowans what they’d need to know to get a carry permit, McClanahan said. Another new rule is that people can use their military experience to satisfy the training requirement.

Under the old law, some sheriffs were stingy about handing out weapons permits, while they were much easier to obtain in other counties.

In Story County on Monday, there were 52 applications for permits to carry weapons. In Jasper County, 83 people showed up seeking a weapons permit or a renewal. In both cases, it was far more than normal.

Jasper County Sheriff Michael Balmer said the new law changes the way he issues permits.

“We denied people a permit in the past if their only reason was that they wanted to carry a gun,” he said. "If they couldn’t come up with a reason, I wouldn’t issue one.

“Now we have to issue them, as long as they haven’t been convicted of a felony, or been adjudicated mentally ill, convicted of a domestic offense and a few others.”

Balmer’s fear is that people with short tempers are going to start waving guns instead of fists.

“The biggest problem with making this consistent from county to county is they threw out all the good training requirements,” he said. “It is now possible to complete a handgun class and never pull a trigger. Someone who has never pulled the trigger on a handgun will now be able to carry one.”

After some urging from the National Rifle Association, the Iowa Legislature last session approved the new law in an effort to standardize the way sheriffs issue permits.

A person with a permit to carry is allowed to carry a handgun, rifle or shotgun openly or concealed.

However, gun-toting citizens will have to respect signs on businesses and offices that prohibit firearms.

Ken Wheeler, 66, of Grimes said he was seeking his first weapons permit at the Polk County Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday. He said he wants to be able to carry a firearm for safety and “in case law enforcement can’t arrive in time.”

“It’s to protect myself and family,” he said.

Wheeler said few gun owners will carry guns where they can be seen.

“I doubt any of us will even consider carrying it outside,” he said. "Kind of defeats the purpose.

“We’re talking about safety. It’s a concealed weapon. I’ve talked to dozens and dozens of people, and I haven’t talked to anyone who is considering” carrying a handgun where it can be seen.

People with permits to own a weapon may store them at home without an additional carry permit.

Fees for a permit to carry a weapon are $55 for five years, Rooker said. She said an $11 renewal was required every year previously.

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