Properly, Woodbury County supervisors in 2011 banned guns in the courthouse, then in 2014 the board put some teeth in the ban by restricting courthouse access to one door staffed by security officers and equipment.
We supported the gun ban and the additional courthouse safety measures. In voicing concerns about courthouse security, we joined County Attorney P.J. Jennings, Sheriff Dave Drew and a study committee whose members recommended security improvements, including surveillance cameras, screening equipment and personnel.
One provision within a package of gun-related proposals passed by the Iowa House and Senate and awaiting signature by Gov. Terry Branstad threatens to undo those positive security steps. The provision states an Iowan can sue any city, county or township that passes a firearm ban if the individual believes he or she is adversely affected by it.
In our view, this piece of the bill would have a chilling impact on approval of local gun bans and increase the potential for danger inside local public buildings, such as the Woodbury County courthouse.
“We have always been able to represent the courthouse as a safe place to victims and witnesses who are sometimes fearful about coming to testify in court,” Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden said in a March 15 story from The Journal's Des Moines bureau. “If this legislation passed, it would subject counties across the state to lawsuits by those who believe they should have a right to bring firearms into county buildings.”
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Last week, we advocated in this space for removal from the bill of a provision allowing guns in the Iowa Capitol. Our reason? We believe state government should strive to make the Capitol - a public building in which emotion-charged debate on controversial issues of deep impact on the lives of Iowans happens on a regular basis - as safe as possible for everyone. To this end, all visitors who enter the Capitol go through a metal detector and their bags are scanned; armed state troopers are present in the building. Allowing untrained civilians to carry firearms inside the Capitol would increase the possibility of gun accidents and violence.
Because we believe the same principles hold true for the Woodbury County courthouse and we wish to see the courthouse ban on guns remain in place, we oppose any effort by the state to weaken the ability of local governments to regulate firearms in local public buildings.
In our view, local leaders should have control for making those decisions.
Branstad is scheduled to sign the gun bill today. Instead of signing the legislation as it is, we encourage the governor to - in the name of reasonable, common-sense public-safety protections - send the bill back to the Legislature for removal of the provisions about local preemption and guns in the state Capitol.