Alleged domestic abuser fights sheriff’s decision denying him a gun permit

State lawmakers have approved a bill allowing Iowans to buy and carry a handgun without a permit. (Photo by James Carroll/Getty Images Plus)

An eastern Iowa man allegedly convicted of a domestic-violence offense is taking the state to court in an effort to reverse a decision denying him a gun permit.

The dispute coincides with efforts by Republican state lawmakers to eliminate the legal requirement that Iowans apply for and be granted a permit to carry a handgun.

Court records indicate that last August, Todd Michael Hansel, 51, of Dubuque, applied to the Dubuque County Sheriff’s Office for a permit to carry a handgun. According to Hansel’s attorney, Sheriff Joseph Kennedy denied Hansel’s request, citing a 2009 conviction for the “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.”

Hansel appealed that ruling to an administrative law judge with the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals. A hearing was held on Dec. 2, after which Administrative Law Judge Tricia Johnson upheld the county sheriff’s decision, according to court records.

That led to Hansel filing a petition in civil court, with DIA named as the respondent, seeking judicial review of Johnson’s decision. Hansel’s attorney, Robert Sabers, argues in the petition that Hansel’s conviction of “disorderly conduct by fighting” does not meet the definition of a crime of domestic violence.

The petition does not outline the circumstances of Hansel’s arrest, and Iowa Courts Online includes no record of Hansel being convicted of disorderly conduct by fighting. That could be because the conviction is in another state, or because the conviction was erased from the public record through the granting of a deferred judgment.

Under Iowa law, anyone who has been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence and who knowingly possesses a firearm is guilty of a felony. A misdemeanor crime of domestic violence is defined as an assault committed by a current or former spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim, or by a person with whom the victim has a child.

The Dubuque County Sheriff’s Office declined to make public any letter of denial issued to Hansel, noting that under Iowa law gun permits are now considered confidential.

On Friday, the Iowa Capital Dispatch asked the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals for a copy of Judge Johnson’s decision. The news organization asked again on Monday, after which the department spokeswoman said the agency intends to respond within the 20 days allowed by Iowa law. DIA has not yet filed a response to Hansel’s lawsuit.

In recent weeks, both the Iowa House and Senate have each passed legislation to eliminate permit requirements for the purchase and carrying of handguns. The bill has since been sent to Gov. Kim Reynolds for her consideration.

The bill does not change the prohibition against gun possession by people who have domestic violence convictions. Under the proposed new law, gun buyers who choose not to get a permit would still need to undergo a federal background check, but only if they attempt to purchase a gun through licensed firearms dealer. As for sales through unlicensed dealers, the proposed new law would prohibit a seller from transferring a handgun to someone they know, or “reasonably should know,” is ineligible to own a firearm.

Clark Kauffman
Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.