Carrying a Firearm in Iowa: An Overview of Iowa’s Gun Laws and Recent Amendments

It seems as though we hear about guns and weapons a lot these days.  Between the many recent mass shootings and executive orders regarding gun safety, a lot of national attention has been placed upon firearm rights and what constitutionally acceptable regulations can be placed upon firearms ownership.  Iowa has also recently vastly expanded its gun laws this 2017 legislative session.  Clearly, the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution states that “[a] well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”  This blog does not take a position on whether gun ownership can and should be regulated.  This blog is meant to inform and educate you on what the laws are in Iowa regarding carrying weapons – both firearms and non-firearms (i.e. knives, brass knuckles, etc.).  Part 1 of this blog dealt with non-firearms weapon rights and regulations.  It can be accessed here. Part two will deal with rights and regulations with respect to carrying firearms- i.e. guns.

Part 2- Firearm Weapons
What is Carrying a Weapon? Iowa law set out in Iowa Code section 724.4 states that a person can be guilty of carrying weapons if they do any of the following:

  1. Go armed with a dangerous weapon concealed on or about the person
  2. Within the limits of any city, go armed with a pistol or revolver, or any loaded firearm of any kind, whether concealed or not; OR
  3. Knowingly carries or transports in a vehicle a pistol or revolver.

If a person does any of these things, they are guilty of an aggravated misdemeanor. An aggravated misdemeanor is punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine of up to $6,250.

There are obviously exceptions to this law.

  1. A person can carry a gun openly outside the limits of a city (I.e. not concealed on the person).
  2. A person can go armed with a dangerous weapon in the person’s own dwelling or place of business, or on land owned or possessed by the person.
  3. A peace officer, correctional officer, a person who is engaged in the business of transporting prisoners when contracted to do so with the Department of Corrections, or member of the armed forces may carry when their duties require them to carry.
  4. A person can carry weapons when lawfully engaged in hunting or fishing while actually engaged in lawful hunting or fishing or engaged in target practice on a range designed for that purpose or on private property outside any incorporated areas of a county.
  5. A person can for any lawful purpose carry or transport an unloaded pistol or revolver in a vehicle inside a closed and fastened container or securely wrapped package which is too large to be concealed on the person.
  6. A person can for any lawful purpose carry or transport an unloaded pistol or revolver inside a cargo or luggage compartment where the pistol or revolver will not be readily accessible to any person riding in the vehicle or common carrier.

And finally, the big one…

  1. A person may carry who has in the person’s possession and who displays to a peace officer on demand a valid permit to carry weapons which has been issued to the person, and whose conduct is within the limits of that permit.

In short, unless one of those other scenarios applies, in order to have a concealed weapon on your person or passenger area of a vehicle, you must have a concealed carry permit.

Who can obtain a permit to carry? Anyone age 21 or over can apply for a nonprofessional permit to carry.  Anyone 18 or over can apply for a professional permit to carry.  A permit to carry should not be mistaken for a permit to acquire.  A permit is to acquire is required of any person who wants to acquire ownership of a pistol or revolver.  For example, if a person simply wants to possess a handgun but does not wish to carry the weapon concealed, the person needs a permit to acquire.  If a person has a permit to carry, a permit to acquire is not required in addition to the permit to carry.

New legislation passed in 2017 and signed into law by Governor Branstad made renewal of permits to acquire necessary every five years instead of every year.  This legislation goes into effect July 1, 2017.
A person must also complete a handgun safety training course in order to be eligible for a permit.  This can be either taken as a live course or online.

What will disqualify me from having a permit to carry?
Federal firearm prohibitors:

  • A Felony conviction (a conviction for a crime punishable by more than one year, excluding a crime classified as a misdemeanor punishable by up to two years)
  • A person who is a fugitive from justice (i.e. a person with an active arrest warrant)
  • A person who is an unlawful user of or addicted to a controlled substance
  • A person who has been adjudicated incompetent or committed to mental institution by a lawful authority, such as a District Court, including committals for substance abuse issues.
  • A person who is an unlawful aliens or non-immigrant aliens admitted under a visa
  • A member of the armed service who was dishonorably discharged from the Armed Forces
  • A person who has renounced US Citizenship
  • An individual subject to a qualifying domestic protection order/restraining order
  • A person convicted for a “Misdemeanor Crime of Domestic Violence” (MCDV).  This includes simple misdemeanor domestic abuse charges.
  • A person under indictment or information for a felony- i.e. a person currently charged with a felony but has not been convicted yet

State firearm prohibitors:

  • A person with a felony conviction (includes aggravated misdemeanor involving a firearm or explosive)
  • A person with a juvenile adjudication for a felony
  • A person who has a conviction for a “Misdemeanor Crime of Domestic Violence” (MCDV)
  • A Person who is subject to a qualifying domestic protection order/restraining order

Additional prohibitors for the Permit to Carry Weapons:

  • A person who is addicted to the use of alcohol or drugs
  • A person with any serious or aggravated misdemeanor conviction under Iowa Code Chapter 708 (assault, harassment, stalking, etc…) not involving a firearm or explosive if such offense occurred within the last three years
  • Where probable cause exists to believe, based upon documented specific actions of the person, where at least one of the actions occurred within two years immediately preceding the date of the permit application, that the person is likely to use a weapon unlawfully or in such other manner as would endanger the person’s self or others.

Where can I get a Permit to Carry?  Nonprofessional Permits to Carry Weapons are issued by the Sheriff of the applicant’s county of residence.  The applicant must complete an application and pay a $50 fee.  Renewals of the permit are $25.

Let’s say I’ve been out drinking and I have a permit. When can I not carry a concealed weapon even if I have a permit? You cannot carry a concealed weapon if you are intoxicated.  Being intoxicated is defined the same for weapons cases as it is for operating while intoxicated cases and includes the following:

  1. Have a blood alcohol concentration of .08 as measured in the person’s blood, breath, or urine
  2. Have any amount of a controlled substance present in your blood or urine.
  3. Are under the influence of alcohol.  That means, because of the alcohol or drug:
    1. A person’s reason or mental ability has been affected
    2. A person’s judgment is impaired
    3. A person’s emotions are visibly excited
    4. A person has, to any extent, lost control of bodily actions or motions.

If a person is intoxicated and carries a weapon on their person or in their vehicle in their immediate reach area while intoxicated, the person is guilty of a serious misdemeanor.  This is a new change to the law this year.  Previously this would have constituted an aggravated misdemeanor.  The law also added a new provision that states that a person who is intoxicated while in their own dwelling, place of business, or on their own land cannot be guilty of that section.  Further, if the person is intoxicated and uses a dangerous weapon during an act of justified self-defense or defense of another person, provided that the possession last no longer than necessary to resolve the emergency, is not guilty of carrying weapons.

Can I carry my weapon in my vehicle if I have a permit and I am not intoxicated? Yes, you can carry the weapon in your vehicle but cannot shoot from your vehicle unless you are a non-ambulatory hunter (i.e. wheelchair bound).

Where can I not carry with a valid permit?  There are several places that a person’s permit to carry may not be valid under state law.  Those are:

  • K-12 School grounds
  • State University campuses
  • State-licensed casinos
  • State fairgrounds
  • State parks and preserves (only use is prohibited, not carrying)
  • State game refuge
  • While bowhunting

This year, the legislature made three important changes to the law regarding where a person can carry.

First, the legislature allowed firearms to be carried on the capitol complex grounds with a valid permit to carry concealed weapons as long as the person displays their permit to carry upon request.

Second, the legislature also passed a provision stating that a city, county or township cannot pass any ordinance regulating the ownership, possession, transfer, transportation, registration or licensing of firearms when the person is otherwise acting in accordance with the law of Iowa.  In other words, a city, county, or township cannot prevent a person with a valid permit to carry from exercising their right to carry as long as the person is otherwise following the law.  If the county or city does attempt to limit when or where a person can carry, the new law gives the person the right to sue the county or city if the person’s rights were adversely affected by the ordinance.   This new legislation would likely severely limit the ability of cities and counties from preventing a person, for example, from carrying a gun into a courthouse or a building housing the county board of supervisors if they had a permit to do so.

Third, a person can now carry a firearm when riding on an ATV or snowmobile as long as they are otherwise following state law.  A person may not shoot from an ATV or snowmobile unless they are nonambulatory (i.e. paralyzed) and engaged in hunting.  No person may shoot from a moving ATV or snowmobile.

I heard something about “Stand your Ground.” What does that mean?  
Iowa law was modified this year to include what some people call a “Stand Your Ground” provision.  A person can use reasonable force if necessary to prevent an injury or loss and can include deadly force if it is reasonable to believe that such force is necessary to avoid injury or risk to one’s life or safety or the life or safety of another.  A person can be wrong in their estimation of danger or the force necessary to repel the danger as long as their belief was reasonable.  A person who is not engaged in illegal activity has no duty to retreat from any place where the person is lawfully present before using force.
Further, the law was also modified to legally presume a person’s use of force was justified if any of the following scenarios apply:

  1. The person was unlawfully entering the dwelling, place of business, or occupied vehicle of the person using force
  2. The person is unlawfully removing or attempting to remove another person against the person’s will from a dwelling, place of business, or occupied vehicle.

The presumption does not apply if:

  1. The person using defensive force is engaged in a criminal offense or attempting to flee the scene of a criminal offense
  2. The person sought to be removed is a child or grandchild or is otherwise in the lawful custody or guardianship of the person against whom force is used.

If a person uses deadly force, the person must either call law enforcement or have another person do so in a reasonable amount of time after the use of the deadly force.  Further, a person who is found to have been justified in the use of reasonable force including deadly force is immune from criminal prosecution and cannot be held civilly liable (i.e. can’t be sued) for the person’s injuries or death.

What other changes did the 2017 gun legislation make to Iowa law?
The new gun legislation also made persons under 21 able to possess a handgun for any lawful purpose provided that the minor is directly supervised by a parent or guardian who is 21 years of age or older, or is supervised by an instructor 21 years of age or older with the consent of such parent or guardian.  The person supervising the minor must at all times be within visual and verbal contact with the person being supervised and the supervisor must not be intoxicated by alcohol or under the influence of an illegal drug.  If the person supervising the child is intoxicated, the person commits the crime of child endangerment.  The supervising parent is strictly liable for any injuries or damage resulting from the use of a firearm by a person under 14 years old.

The legislature also made confidential any personally identifiable information that were included on permit applications, including social security numbers, dates of birth, addresses, driver’s license number, etc.  Most of the provisions of the new gun law go into effect on July 1, 2017.

What if I am wrongfully denied, revoked, or suspended of my permit that I was legally entitled to? 
If a person was wrongfully denied a permit or was revoked or suspended wrongfully, the person is entitled to court costs and reasonable attorney fees.  If, however, the decision of the sheriff or commissioner to deny, suspend or revoke the permit is upheld, the state is entitled to court costs and reasonable attorney fees.

This is by no means a completely exhaustive list of all the gun laws in Iowa, but it provides some sense of what is and is not permissible with regard to carrying firearms in the state and the new laws passed in 2017.  If you have questions regarding gun rights, it is always good advice to seek the counsel of an experienced attorney familiar with Iowa weapons statutes.