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Gov. Chet Culver
Gov. Chet Culver (Quad-City Times file photo)

DES MOINES — Gun-rights advocates cheered loudly Thursday as Gov. Chet Culver approved a standardized process for those seeking permits to carry a concealed weapon.

The new rules will apply equally in all 99 Iowa counties, beginning Jan. 1.

During a ceremony in the Statehouse rotunda, Culver signed legislation that will make Iowa a “shall issue” state when it comes to county sheriffs issuing permits to acquire or carry a concealed weapon.

“This bill strikes an appropriate balance, recognizing the rights of law-abiding Iowans guaranteed by the Second Amendment and the duty of local law enforcement officers,” Culver said. “We all have a role to play in public safety. I believe this is a good bill that has the potential to keep Iowans safer.”

Under Senate File 2379, county sheriffs would lose much of their discretion in denying concealed weapons permits — a change that prompted most members of the Iowa State Sheriffs’ and Deputies’ Association to oppose the measure.

“It’s a pretty significant public safety change,” said Susan Cameron, an association lobbyist. “For the most part, they don’t believe that they’re unjustly denying permits now, so they don’t think that will have a huge impact.”

Cedar County Sheriff Warren Wethington, one of five county sheriffs who attended the bill-signing ceremony, acknowledged the issue created some tension among his association members. But he said it was important to remove “a double standard” where some sheriffs were issuing permits while others were applying stricter standards and denying permits.

“We still have discretion. The only difference now is we have to put it in writing and they have an appeals process,” he said. “It takes a lot of the good-old-boy factor out of it. I think after a year has passed and there won’t be any problems, it will all be forgotten.”

Scott County Sheriff Dennis Conard said little would change in Scott County, which already had a similar list of requirements in place for those seeking a permit.

The bill seeks to create uniform standards in all 99 counties for issuing permits to carry a concealed weapon in public. It will require sheriffs to issue a permit to carry firearms to all applicants unless they are subject to certain specific disqualifiers.

Under current law, sheriffs can issue or deny permits. There standards vary with some issuing permits to nearly everyone who applies and some denying nearly all applications. Nearly 35,000 Iowans have concealed carry permits, according to lawmakers.

Chris Rager, an Iowa lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, said Thursday’s action signifies the first time in nearly a century that a major step has been taken to enhance the right-to-carry freedoms of Iowans. He said the NRA-backed legislation will allow law-abiding Iowans the right to carry without being subject to the subjective discretion of individual sheriffs, changing Iowa from a “may-issue” state to a one of 38 “shall-issue” U.S. states.

Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, who opposed the bill, said she was concerned the new law will take away local control from county sheriffs seeking to best protect their citizens.

“This is a truly big day,” said Rep. Clel Baudler, R-Greenfield, a retired state trooper who has been working on the issue for 12 years. He called standardization of 99 sets of rules a “fairness issue.”

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