Johnson County Considering Banning Guns on its Property

By Gregg Hennigan, Reporter

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Johnson County may ban guns on county property in response to recent changes to the state's gun law.

County Attorney Janet Lyness is drawing up a proposal that would prohibit guns in county buildings, parking lots and grounds. Exceptions would be granted for law enforcement and active-duty military personnel, people who transfer prisoners and people who receive permission from the county's Conservation Board for things like hunting and training.

A majority of the county's Board of Supervisors spoke favorably of the measure Wednesday at an informal meeting of the county's elected officials, and the supervisors tentatively scheduled it for discussion at their Feb. 10 meeting.

"I don't think anyone other than law enforcement and people with permission need to have weapons on county property," Supervisor Janelle Rettig said.

Changes to the state's gun law that took effect Jan. 1 ease restrictions on the issuance of gun permits and allow people to carry guns in the open.

Public bodies throughout Iowa have been debating the issue in recent weeks, and gun-rights activists, many of them from outside the individual communities, have been turning out in force at those meetings.

Washington County and the cities of Marion and Kalona recently backed away from proposed gun bans in the face of public opposition. In Marion, more than 80 people showed up at a City Council meeting earlier this month to share their displeasure with an ordinance that would have banned openly displaying firearms in municipal buildings. That proposal was defeated 4-3.

"We can fully expect those people to be at our board meeting," Johnson County Supervisor Sally Stutsman said.

Opponents of the local laws contend local authorities cannot pre-empt state law. The Iowa Attorney General's Office, however, has said cities and counties can regulate firearms on their properties.

Lyness said while the county cannot change the state law regarding issuing gun permits, it does have control over its property, just like it can ban food from its buildings and set the hours they are open.

"I see that (Attorney General) opinion as our ability to define what is best for Johnson County," Supervisor Terrence Neuzil said.

James Amlong, 67, of rural Iowa City told the officials he agreed with much of what they said. But if someone was intent on doing harm in a county building, a trained gun owner like him, not a sign on the door, has the best chance of stopping the threat, the former police officer said.

County Recorder Kim Painter said that although most people who own guns are responsible, it's still appropriate for the county to forbid them on its property.

"People do look to us to create an environment that is as safe as possible," she said.

Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek has been an outspoken critic of the new law, particularly with how it gives sheriffs less discretion in issuing gun permits. Since Jan. 1, the sheriff has issued permits to 20 people that in the past he would have required more information of or denied, Chief Deputy Steve Dolezal said.

The city in Iowa City also is considering a gun ban on its property.

Note: The story has been corrected to say that since Jan. 1, the sheriff has issued permits to 20 people that in the past he would have required more information of or denied. A previous version had an incorrect date.
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