Metal detectors at Iowa libraries? Bill would require gun-free buildings to increase security

By: - February 10, 2020 2:15 pm

A man draws his Glock .45-caliber pistol. (Photo by Getty Images)

A new bill moving forward in the Iowa Legislature would loosen firearms restrictions in county courthouses and require local buildings that ban guns to increase their security. 

Iowa gun owners typically can’t carry firearms into courthouses, but Republican-backed House Study Bill 615 negates any court orders banning firearms in courthouses deeming them unenforceable, except in rooms used for judicial functions. Particularly in more rural Iowa areas, county courthouses serve multiple functions, such as office space for county auditors or city clerks.

The bill comes after former Iowa Chief Justice Mark Cady banned weapons in Iowa’s courts and public areas of county courthouses in 2017. He later revised the rule to allow guns under certain permissions, according to Radio Iowa.

Beyond courthouses, the bill also broadens its security requirements for publicly owned buildings where guns are banned. Cities or counties that ban guns in buildings like a library or city hall would also be required to screen for firearms and hire security guards for those facilities.

Several gun control advocacy groups spoke out against the bill during a subcommittee meeting on Monday, saying firearms in stressful courtroom situations could lead to deadly consequences.

Wendy Abrahamson of the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa recalled tense court cases she attended in northern Iowa where people were sentenced to life in prison. Abrahamson said she doesn’t believe firearms belong in courthouses, where stressful moments are often happening.

“Some of those situations, frankly, were frightening,” Abrahamson said.

 Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, said she opposes the bill. She said it’s best left for cities and counties to decide whether or not they want to ban guns in their public buildings.

“I am somebody who is concerned about everything being taken away in terms of local control,” Wessel-Kroeschell said.

Rep. Steve Holt, R-Denison, said he believes gun-free zones are an invitation for “crazy” and “sick” people to bring their weapons without fear of consequence.

Holt said gun prohibitions keep law-abiding citizens from carrying firearms, while people with ill intentions will continue to possess guns. He pointed to a shooting at a church in White Settlement, Texas, where an attacker was shooting at congregants. He was stopped after a permit-carrying firearms instructor shot and stopped him, according to the Associated Press.

“It’s never about the gun,” Holt said. “It’s about the character of the person holding the gun.”

Beyond firearms in courthouses, the bill also addresses local restrictions on zoning for shootings ranges. It mandates that cities and counties are not allowed to impose stricter restrictions on ranges than already mandated by state law.

But Robert Palmer of the Iowa League of Cities pointed out there is no state law regarding shooting range zoning.

Holt said the committee will further research and clarify language in the bill.

The bill passed 2-1 on a party line vote. It needs approval from the House Public Safety Committee before it can be considered by the House.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.