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To carry or not to carry: That is the question

By Staff | Mar 14, 2008

Iowa legislators this week are wrangling with a bill that on the surface may not be in the spotlight as much as a statewide SILO, health-care, or road funding. Still, it’s an issue that proponents say extends all the way from the U.S. Constitution to the federal Supreme Court.

House File 2092 would change the language in current state law which now says that county sheriffs “may” issue a permit to carry a concealed weapon to “shall” issue. Those permits, of course, would be issued only after applicants pass a FBI NCIS check.

Connie Alvarez, Estherville gun dealer, believes the ramifications of the bill go to the heart of the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

“The voters for the first time have a choice in the election,” Alvarez said of the upcoming race for county sheriff. The law would make it more difficult for county sheriffs to refuse to issue concealed permits unless for a good reason such as failure of an application to pass a NCIS check.

Alvarez said he is urging all his customers to contact Rep. Marcie Frevert on the issue.

Alvarez said 40-42 states have passed right-to-carry laws. In every state where the law was passed, crime has in fact gone down, not up, Alvarez said. He said after Minnesota passed a right-to-carry law a few years ago the Minneapolis Tribune admitted its previous position against issuing concealed weapons permits was wrong.

“The criminal loves gun-free zones,” Alvarez said, noting that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Heller vs. Washington, D.C. could allow citizens to carry concealed weapons in the nation’s capital.

Alvarez pointed out a difference between a permit to purchase a handgun and a permit to carry a concealed weapon. In both cases, an individual fills out an application through the local sheriff’s office. The permit to purchase allows an individual to use a handgun while hunting or target shooting.

A concealed weapons permit allows a person to carry a handgun in public. Opponents said that causes a problem, particularly for law enforcement, who may not know whether a suspect is carrying a handgun.

“It would impact our race for sheriff,” Alvarez said of the bill.

Currently, no new permits to carry a concealed weapon are issued in Emmet County, said Alvarez. If the state law were changed, applicants would have to still go through the NCIS check plus pass a class with written and live fire exams before receiving a permit.

Mike Martens, current Emmet County chief deputy, is running for sheriff on the Democratic ticket as is Brent Shatto, Estherville Police Department captain. Gene Haukoos, manager of Estherville Ambulance Service and retired Navy veteran who has qualified in the military with a variety of firearms, is running for sheriff on the Republican ticket.

Shatto, speaking as a captain on the Estherville Police Department, noted that the state has very stringent standards in issuing permits to carry.

“If they do meet the requirements, I don’t see why they can’t” get a permit to carry, Shatto said.

“Apparently it’s a big issue,” admitted Haukoos. “Who’s the sheriff not to issue that if you can legally carry one. If you can legally carry and you want to then you should be able to.”

“It appears the sheriff shall issue a concealed weapons permit,” Martens said if House File 2092 is approved. “If elected sheriff, I would comply with any statutory requirements that the state says I do.”

However, that would be a marked difference in the way in which the issue is currently handled, with no new concealed weapon permits issued in Emmet County.

While he strongly believes in people’s rights to keep and bear arms, Martens said that is not the issue at stake with HB 2092. Rather, he said it is whether a person should be able to carry a concealed weapon.

“I don’t think our state or people are ready for that,” Martens said.

For one, Martens sees a problem if officers answer a call, not knowing whether an individual might have a concealed weapon.

“That’s inherently dangerous” for both the officer and the individual with the gun, Martens said. “I don’t feel the citizens are going to be comfortable with that.”

Also, passage of 2092 would allow citizens to carry loaded long guns in cars, something that could pose other problems.

“I just don’t think it’s in the best interests of public safety to do this,” Martens said.

Now in his 25th year in the sheriff’s office, Martens said deputies are required to show proficiency with their handguns twice a year. However, there would be no requirement for people with a permit to carry a concealed weapon to ever show proficiency again once they received a permit, he said.

“I don’t think that’s the best answer to our public safety,” Martens said. “I don’t think it’s going to make people comfortable and it’s going to cause more problems than it’s going to solve.”

“I feel a huge responsibility to the citizens here,” Martens said. “They ask me to lead and if they ask me what I think, I’ll tell them.”

Sheriff Larry Lamack, who instituted a no-issue policy when he first became sheriff 20 years ago, also makes a distinction between Second Amendment rights and issuing concealed weapons permits.

“I agree with the Second Amendment,” Lamack said. “But I also think we have to protect the public. That is why for the last 20 years I have not issued concealed weapons permits. I oppose the House File 2092 word “shall“. I think it should be at the discretion of the sheriff.”

Sheriff Lamack said a lot of people have a misconception of the concealed weapons law. People can get a permit to purchase a gun through the sheriff’s office which will allow then to carry a handgun on their belt while hunting or target shooting. People can also have a handgun at home or business without having a concealed weapons permit, Lamack said.

“To carry a loaded weapon in public, I don’t think anybody can justify that,” Lamack said.

The sheriff pointed out that even he does not carry a concealed weapon while off duty.

“If I don’t see the need to carry a concealed weapon off duty, then how can a non-law enforcement person justify it.”

Lamack said HF 2092 would also remove the ability of law enforcement to decide who should receive a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

“We all know people that have never been arrested before that drink excessively, do drugs, but have never been caught. They would be issued a concealed weapon permit” if HB 2092 is passed, Lamack said.

“They’re taking away the local control,” said Lamack. “I may know that Joe Blow’s a bad guy but Joe Blow has no arrest records. There are people in this county that I would be scared to give a weapons permit to that I know do not have a criminal record.”

Lamack also pointed out that background checks do not reveal whether a person is mentally incompetent, another reason that a permit to carry should not be issued.

“I’m going to do what I think is right and stand up for these beliefs,” Lamack said. “In the last five elections, the majority of the people have agreed with me.”