MUSCATINE COUNTY — Last Friday, Governor Kim Reynolds officially signed what many are calling the “constitutional carry” bill, which will take effect in the state on July 1, 2021.
In a statement, Reynolds said she signed the bill to ensure “Iowa’s law-abiding citizens” would have access to their 2nd Amendment rights while preventing the sale of firearms to “dangerous individuals.”
Previously, all Iowans had to pass a background check to obtain a permit to carry or acquire a handgun. Now, through this new bill, Iowans will be able to choose whether or not to obtain a handgun carry permit and will no longer need a permit to buy a gun through private sale.
People who purchase firearms through a federally licensed dealer will still need to pass a background check. Those who do not have a permit or have not gone through safety training will still be able to carry their gun into public places.
The bill requires courts to report people deemed ineligible to own firearms for “mental health reasons” to a state law enforcement database — with the intent a database will prevent ineligible people from buying firearms, and to inform law enforcement.
Finally, the bill states it is a Class D felony for anyone to sell, rent or loan a gun to a person who is prohibited from owning firearms, and doing so could result in five years in prison.
Although there are some critics of the bill, Muscatine Sheriff Quinn Riess said he isn’t too worried about the effect this bill could have on Muscatine County.
"Iowa, I believe, will be the 19th state to have constitutional carry over permit carry, so it’s not reinventing the wheel by any means,” he said.
According to Riess, the Sheriff’s Office already issues a lot of permits each month, and while it is unknown whether or not these numbers will be lowered once the bill is in effect, he doesn’t expect the numbers to fall by much.
“If you look at other states, historically the number of permits that are issued through the Sheriff’s Office have remained pretty consistent,” Riess said. “From what we understand from other states with a legislation similar to what Iowa has now, they continue to issue a very similar amount of permits that they have been. So I don’t see there being a huge drop.”
When asked why, Riess speculated that some residents may feel more comfortable with having a permit, even if it isn’t required.
“Being able to just present that card if need be, is a comfort,” he said. “And who’s to say that the legislation that’s coming out isn’t going to have changes made in the future? It probably will need to be tweaked over the years, so depending on how and when those changes are made, there’s still that degree of comfort in having a permit and always being good to go however things change.”
For Riess and his team, interacting with armed citizens is something they are already used to dealing with.
“When Iowa switched from being a may-issue to a shall-issue state back in 2010 or so, the number of permits that we issued through the Sheriff’s Department went up considerably. If a person met the criteria to have a firearms permit, they got one,” he said.
Because the Sheriff’s Department wasn’t denying a lot of requesting citizens from having permits, and because the department still issues and renews up to 40-60 permits per week, citizens using their right to conceal and carry has become fairly common in Muscatine County.
“The guys that are working the streets, both at the Sheriff’s Office and the other local law enforcement, are accustomed to running across people that are armed, and we haven’t had any major incidents with that,” Riess said. “So I don’t see this new law being a huge burden.”
Riess did ask, however, that all residents who plan on buying a firearm or who will be taking part in constitutional carry still take the time to become familiar with their weapon and with weapon safety, even if training isn’t required. This is, of course, the same thing they ask of residents who decide to go through the permit process. Whether a resident has a permit or not, safety is still the key.
“Get the training, know how to do it, know how and when to use it, when not to use it, and when it’s time to maybe leave it holstered and be a good witness,” Riess said. “Just be knowledgeable and cognizant about those things. Just because you’re carrying a firearm doesn’t mean that you have to intervene in any given situation.”
Riess added that residents should always be aware that if they choose to act and draw their firearm, an outsider to the situation may perceive them as the threat instead of somebody trying to stop the threat.
“Being familiar with your surrounding and the incident that you’re observing is always a good idea," Riess said. "Just pay attention, know how and when to use it, and know when to call 911 instead.”