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SIOUX CITY | The litany of people, in county meetings and out on the street, saying they didn't want guns in the Woodbury County Courthouse turned into a pivot point.

A few Woodbury County Supervisors changed their stances, so a ban on guns in the Woodbury County Courthouse has returned after an important vote Tuesday.

At the prior county supervisors meeting on Feb. 13, two people from Sioux City, William Burrows and Kevin Keane, said it is preferable for safety reasons to not have guns in the courthouse. On Tuesday, Jim Rixner,of Sioux City, praised the supervisors after the 3-2 vote.

"I applaud you and I thank you," said Rixner, a former Sioux City Councilman.

Some county officials, including County Sheriff Dave Drew and County Attorney P.J. Jennings, have said people become impassioned in some heated court cases and could become deadly if they had guns in the courthouse.

The final 3-2 vote included Jeremy Taylor, Marty Pottebaum and Rocky De Witt voting to return to the ban on guns in the courthouse, while Matthew Ung and Keith Radig voted against the measure. De Witt said he had heard from "not one" person in support of having guns in the courthouse.

Taylor had been a chief supporter of the existing policy measure that allowed guns in non-court controlled spaces of the courthouse. But Taylor had a change of position, saying it is "impractical" to proceed in the most recent setup, in which guns could be brought into all portions of floors 5, 7 and 8 in the courthouse, not be brought on any parts of floors 2, 3 and 4, but they can be on some portions of floors 1 and 6.

The final vote came with some drama.

Board chairman De Witt works as a part-time security officer in the courthouse, and at times he has abstained from votes related to courthouse security issues. However, De Witt said the County Attorney's Office said he had no conflict of interest on the agenda item at hand, so he would vote Tuesday, something that Ung strongly urged De Witt not to do.

Assistant County Attorney Joshua Widman said the item Tuesday involved a general action that would apply to all county courthouse employees, not one that would specifically affect the county budget that could impact De Witt's salary.

The county supervisors have had many reactions and votes related to the guns in the courthouse issue, since the expanded gun rights bill was passed in April 2017. It took effect on July 1 and has been the subject of two orders by the Iowa Supreme Court and also widely debated by Woodbury County residents.

"None of this has been neat, clean or easy," Taylor said.

The courthouse has county departments mingled with court functions, which is complicating how the Sheriff's Office handles security. A week ago, Sheriff Drew urged the supervisors to go back to a ban of guns in the courthouse, as enforcing the hodge-podge would require a new slew of workers who would have to monitor people from floor to floor, or within the same floor.

"Given that those who would otherwise carry weapons would essentially be escorted (by security personnel)...I fail to continue believing that having some areas where carrying is allowed is practical, nor do I believe it is the will of the public," Taylor wrote in a meeting memo.

Ung said the item should not have come back to the supervisors, while also agreeing with statements by De Witt and Taylor that the public was tired of the back-and-forth on guns in the courthouse.

"The ends do not justify the means, in getting a more comfortable solution," Ung said.

The new gun law, among other things, broadens the state’s so-called stand-your-ground provision, so a law-abiding citizen does not have a duty to retreat in a public place before using deadly force when confronted with danger to life or property.

There have been two important supervisory orders from the Iowa Supreme Court since June on the guns in courthouse issue.

Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady issued the latest supervisory order in December, to update his weapons prohibition order of June 2017.

Cady's more recent order from December says the other elements of the June order remain, but after consultation with chief judges, sheriffs and other county officials, there can be a way for weapons to be taken in floors without court system elements.

In January, the Woodbury County Board members had the impression that guns would only be banned on floors two, three and four of the courthouse. However, Duane Hoffmeyer, who is the chief judge of the Iowa Third Judicial District, on Feb. 6 said there are clerk of courts offices on the first floor and judicial branch offices on the sixth floor, so parts of those floors are not areas where members of the public could carry guns.

At the Tuesday meeting, Hoffmeyer weighed in on the vote.

"I am in favor of your action. It strengthens security in the Woodbury County Courthouse," Hoffmeyer said.


County and education reporter

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