Story County gun laws and Iowa State Policy

Nik Heftman, .

Story County Attorney Jessica Reynolds was appointed in 2016 after the retirement of long-serving Attorney Stephen Holmes.

Before taking post, Reynolds served as assistant attorney for Story County for eight years. As county attorney, Reynolds’ responsibilities include prosecuting all violations of state criminal laws and county ordinances.

Since arriving in Story County, Reynolds has had to work several cases involving gun violence. Reynolds said that the cases she worked in the county shared two common themes: drugs or mental health.

There are other issues that surround gun violence that we need to talk about,” Reynolds said. “I see a lot of overlap between gun violence and drugs and a lot between mental health and gun permits.”

On Oct. 1, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock opened fire on the Route 91 Harvest country music festival on the Las Vegas Strip. Paddock was found dead in his hotel room with a self-inflicted gunshot wound after opening fire for around 11 minutes.

With 59 dead and 489 injured, the event is recognized as the worst mass shooting by a lone gunman in U.S. history.

The event sparked a nationwide debate on domestic terrorism, gun control and mental health. Iowa law currently bars gun permits from individuals with felonies, domestic violence convictions and adjudications of serious mental impairment.

“That means a judge made a finding that a person is seriously mentally impaired,” Reynolds said. “That leaves out people that may have mental health issues that have not been adjudicated by a judge.”

Individuals must be 21 years old for an Iowa nonprofessional weapon permit or 18 for an Iowa professional weapon permit. Applications for permits must be submitted to a local county sheriff.

The sheriff will then run a background check on the applicant.

If the applicant’s history bears any of the three aforementioned restrictions, the application is denied. Reynolds said there is usually no issue tracking an applicant’s criminal history. However, adjudications of serious mental impairment are not always available.

“Sometimes [the adjudications] show up and sometimes they don’t,” Reynolds said. “We don’t have a good system to track that.”

According to, federal law cannot require states to make information identifying people with adjudicated mental impairments available to the federal or state agencies that perform background checks.

Reynolds said there is no statewide system to coordinate mental impairment adjudications. She added that counties often struggle to obtain said information from other counties.

“Why are we stopping behaviors only at crisis points?” Reynolds said. “I’d like to see us as a society start treating these issues up front.”

Gun laws in Iowa have seen a number of provisions in the last decade. In 2010, then-Iowa Gov. Chet Culver signed Senate File 2379, a bill that saw Iowa transition from a  “may issue” state to a “shall issue” state.

In a “may issue” state, the permit issuing authority “may” issue a permit if an applicant meets certain criteria. “Shall issue” systems remove all arbitrary bias and discretion, compelling the issuing authority to award the permit.

In April, Gov. Terry Branstad signed House File 517, a bill that saw major revisions to second-amendment rights in Iowa. The bill signing came with the following implementations:

  • Allow children to use handguns in the presence of adults.

  • Allow Iowans to sue cities or counties that enact gun-free zones. 

  • Enhance the state’s “stand your ground” laws by adding that a “law-abiding person” did not have a duty to retreat from any place where the person is lawfully present before defending themselves with deadly force. It also said a person may be wrong in their estimation of danger or about how much force is necessary as long as there is a reasonable basis. 

  • Allow permit-holders to carry handguns in the state’s capitol

Sioux City was one of the first Iowa cities to take advantage of the new legislation. In June, the Woodbury County Board of Supervisors voted to lift a 2014 ban on firearms on county property. The change meant that individuals with a permit could carry their weapon into a Woodbury County courthouse.

Mark Lambert, interim city attorney for the city of Ames, said that Ames does not allow firearms in city parks. He also said individuals with permits are allowed to carry in the Ames City Hall.

In 2012, the Ames City Council passed the zoning ordinance that banned gun sales in residential areas. Lambert said the ordinance allowed a home-occupation permit for the in-home sale of goods — but gun sales were not included in the ordinance.

Iowa State policy identifies the following areas where the authorized use of firearms and other weapons may be appropriate: university organizations, sporting events, theatrical events, farms, research, extension and religious or cultural events.

Any unauthorized transportation, use or storage of any firearms is prohibited at Iowa State. A request for authorization for transporting firearms or weapons “in extenuating circumstances” must be written and approved by the ISU Office of Risk Management or Department of Public Safety.