DUBUQUE (KWWL) -- A change in Iowa's weapon carrying law goes into effect January 1.
All counties will be unified in the way they issue permits to carry weapons in public. Although this affects the entire state, some counties will see more changes than others, depending on how much discretion each county's sheriff has used prior to 2011 when deciding whether to issue someone a permit.
The big change is that, effective January 1, no Iowan can be denied a permit to publicly carry a weapon if that person meets the criteria and passes a background check.
The Dubuque County Sheriff's Department on Wednesday had already approved nearly 300 early applications.
NRA certified instructor Tim Flynn said the high number makes sense.
"In Dubuque County here, there's a lot of excitement because the previous sheriff would not issue permits," Flynn said. "They were very difficult to get, so we're seeing people who have been wanting to get them for years, now coming out of the woodwork, so to speak, taking classes and eager to apply."
Mike Engling is one of those people. He said he's wanted to have a permit to carry a handgun in public "for the last six, seven years. You know, the more things change in the world, the more I want to be able to protect my family."
The law requires applicants to take a handgun safety class, so Engling took one Tim Flynn offers.
"I cover everything from handgun familiarization, safety, use of force," Flynn said. "We also have an indoor range here, so then we actually go and shoot as well."
Flynn said it's important for applicants to learn how to shoot their gun, but practice on a shooting range is not a requirement for obtaining a permit.
"Technically," Dubuque Police Department's Lt. Scott Baxter said, "somebody could gain a permit to carry a weapon and never have shot that weapon, and that's troublesome for us."
Even though people with permits can legally carry their weapon on the outside of their clothes, in plain sight, Baxter said the biggest change the public could see after January 1 may come in store windows.
"You'll see some signs popping up at banks, businesses, bars, that sort of thing," he said, referring to signs that prohibit guns on a business' premises. He said guns are already banned in federal buildings, most parks and on school property.
Central Range owner Craig Stockel sells handguns at his store and has a shooting range. He said the change in the law has increased handgun sales slightly and generated interest.
"They have a reason now to possess a handgun," he said. "'I always wanted a handgun, but I didn't know why, but now I can have one to protect myself and my property.' So the interest is piqued."
"For me," Engling said, who was practicing shooting Wednesday at Central Range, "it's just that peace of mind that I can protect my family."
Dubuque County Sheriff Don Vrotsos said he'd like to see legislators continue to work on the law. He said he thinks the required training should be unified and include a shooting range component. Although many classes and instructors include hands-on training with a gun, it's not required by law.
For the Iowa Department of Public Safety's Frequently Asked Questions section about the changes to Iowa's weapon law, click HERE or see the link on the left.
The Dubuque Police Department offers the following tips on obtaining a permit to carry a weapon in public:
On January 1st, 2011, the recent changes (SF 2379) to Iowa's weapon law (Chapter 724 of the Iowa Code) become effective. As a result, the Dubuque County Sheriff's Office and Dubuque Police Department would like to make the following recommendations:
- Permit holders are STRONGLY encouraged to safely conceal their weapon verses carrying it in plain view.
- At the onset of any contact with law enforcement, IMMEDIATELY notify the officer(s) that you have a permit to carry and are armed.
- ALWAYS carry your permit when armed.
- Prior to traveling across state lines, familiarize yourself with the laws of the state you intend to enter. Iowa recognizes and honors weapon permits from other states, but in many other states there is no such reciprocity.
- Weapon possession/use is prohibited while a person is impaired by alcohol and/or drugs.
- Permit holders can possess weapons in motor vehicles but not while riding on an ATV or snowmobile.
- Contact the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for specific inquiries regarding hunting.
- Private establishments can post signage prohibiting weapons on their premises.
- Permit holders are STRONGLY encouraged to gain proficiency with the weapon they carry (to include shooting accuracy, weapon safety and justification in the use of deadly force).
- Dubuque's City Manager, City Attorney, and Police Chief are reviewing options to determine if a policy/ordinance recommendation will be made to the City Council regarding permit holders carrying weapons in City buildings.
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