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New state law apparently overturns Floyd County courthouse ban on guns

By Bob Steenson,

A 19-year-old Floyd County policy banning guns from the courthouse has apparently been overturned by action taken this year by the Iowa Legislature that went into effect July 1.

The Board of Supervisors held a discussion at its regular meeting Tuesday morning with Assistant County Attorney Randy Tilton regarding the change in Iowa Code that the Legislature approved this year and that Gov. Kim Reynolds signed.

Possession of dangerous weapons in the Floyd County courthouse except by law enforcement personnel has been prohibited since 2001 by order of the Board of Supervisors at that time.

Tilton said the new law restricts what political subdivisions such as cities and counties can do regarding regulating the possession, carrying or transportation of dangerous weapons including firearms.

“It looks like we have a little muscle-flexing between the Legislature and the judicial branch going on as to who is going to have authority over this issue,” Tilton said.

In June 2017, Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady had issued an order banning guns from all courthouses in Iowa, reacting to a major gun rights bill passed by the Legislature earlier that year that had, among other things, made it legal for concealed weapons to be carried in the Iowa Capitol by anyone with a valid gun permit.

Later that year Cady backed off his complete ban, saying counties could file a written request with the court to allow guns in their courthouse.

Even after the 2017 gun rights bill, the law left the door open regarding regulating firearms in public buildings such as the courthouse, and some attorney general opinions had backed up the idea that since private businesses could prohibit guns from their property, the boards controlling public buildings could as well, Tilton said.

The new state law closes that door.

“I believe this statute, unless the Supreme Court says otherwise, would specifically preempt that,” Tilton said.

The 2017 Supreme Court order covered courtrooms, court-controlled spaces and public areas in the courthouse — “that’s the entire courthouse,” Tilton said.

“The Legislature has now said that the judicial branch order can only apply to courtrooms or court offices,” he said.

An exception in the new law allows public buildings to ban weapons if they have a means of screening for firearms and other dangerous weapons, and armed guards inside the building, Tilton said.

Supervisor Roy Schwickerath said the law isn’t specific as to what it means to screen persons, or even if having a sheriff’s office located in the courthouse would meet the requirement for “armed guards.”

“I think the intention was a metal detector or a wand or something of that nature, but it’s just interesting they didn’t get specific on it,” Schwickerath said. “I was a little disappointed with the way it was written.”

In 2016, a divided Board of Supervisors voted 2-1 to place signs in the courthouse posting the already existing county ban on weapons. That action was prompted in part by the chief judge for Judicial District 2 which includes Floyd County ordering firearms to be banned from the court facilities within courthouses in the district and placing signs in those areas.

Voting in favor of posting the signs in 2016 was Schwickerath and then-Supervisor Mark Kuhn. Voting against was Supervisor Doug Kamm, who is still a member of the board.

Schwickerath said Tuesday that he had made the motion to post the signs in 2016 because as long as the policy was in place it was important to let people know about it so it could be enforced when necessary.

Schwickerath said since he was the one who originally moved to have the signs put up, he would make the motion to take them down, along with directing the county security committee to come up with a recommendation on how to conform with state code.

That motion passed 3-0.