Carrying Weapons – Part I – Non Firearm Weapons

Carrying Weapons: The Who, What, When, Where, Why and How of Iowa’s Weapons Laws

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.  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 will deal with non-firearms weapon rights and regulations. Part two will deal with rights and regulations with respect to carrying firearms- i.e. guns.

Part 1- Non-Firearm Weapons

People often ask: “Is it legal for me to carry a knife?  Can I carry one to hunt or fish? Can I carry one in public? Can I carry one to cut a length of rope or to cut the tape off of a package? Can I carry a knife to protect myself? How about carrying a knife just because I want to?”  The answer is yes, but there are conditions on what, when, and where you can carry. 

Iowa Code section 724.4 spells out the various ways that you can break the law by carrying a weapon.  For now, we will concentrate solely on the non-firearms weapons and leave the firearm discussion for another time. A person commits the crime of carrying a weapon if they:

  1. Go armed with a “dangerous weapon” concealed on or about their person. This constitutes an aggravated misdemeanor punishable by any of the following:

  • Two years imprisonment or up to one year in jail and a fine of $625 to $6,250 plus 35% criminal surcharge and court costs

  1. Go armed with a knife concealed on or about the person and the person uses the knife in the commission of a crime.  This constitutes an aggravated misdemeanor in Iowa.

  2. Go armed with a knife concealed on or about the person and the person DOES NOT use the knife in the commission of a crime AND

    1. The blade exceeds 8 inches long, the person commits an aggravated misdemeanor.

    2. The blade exceeds 5 inches but does not exceed 8 inches, the person commits a serious misdemeanor.  A serious misdemeanor is punishable by all of the following:

  • Up to one year in jail and a fine of $315 to $1,875 plus 35% criminal surcharge and court costs.

    1. The blade is shorter than 5 inches, the person commits no crime.

So, what constitutes a “dangerous weapon?”  According to Iowa Code section 702.7, a “dangerous weapon” is any instrument or device designed primarily for use in inflicting death or injury upon a human being or animal, and which is capable of inflicting death upon a human being when used in the manner for which it was designed, except a bow and arrow when possessed and used for hunting or any other lawful purpose. Additionally, any instrument or device of any sort whatsoever which is actually used in such a manner as to indicate that the defendant intends to inflict death or serious injury upon the other, and which, when so used, is capable of inflicting death upon a human being, is a dangerous weapon. Dangerous weapons include but are not limited to any offensive weapon, pistol, revolver, or other firearm, dagger, razor, stiletto, switchblade knife, knife having a blade exceeding five inches in length, or any portable device or weapon directing an electric current, impulse, wave, or beam that produces a high-voltage pulse designed to immobilize a person.

So what does that mean? It means that anything that is designed to inflict injury or death upon a person or animal or anything that is actually used in a manner to attempt to inflict death or serious injury on another person is a “dangerous weapon.”  So, how about brass knuckles or a box cutter or a utility knife? How about throwing stars, a competition throwing hatchet, or a boomerang?  If any of those items were being used in a manner that indicates an intent to inflict injury or death on another person and the prosecution proved that the person acted with such intent, those items certainly could be considered a “dangerous weapon” and may subject a person to a carrying weapons charge.
Well, aren’t there ways that a person can carry a concealed knife or weapon and not get in trouble? As with every law there are exceptions, and the carrying weapons law is no different.  You can’t be convicted of any of the alternatives listed above in section 1, 2, or 3 if any of the following apply:

  1. A person goes armed with a dangerous weapon in their own dwelling, business, or land owned and possessed by the person

  2. A police officer, a correctional officer, or member of the armed forces or national guard when their duties require them to carry a weapon

  3. A person who carries an unloaded pistol or revolved in a vehicle inside a closed and fastened container which is too large to be concealed on the person, or stored inside a cargo or luggage compartment where the pistol or revolver will not be readily accessible to any person riding in the vehicle (discussed further in part two)

  4. A person is lawfully engaged in target practice on a target range or is actually engaged in lawful hunting

  5. Carrying a knife used in hunting or fishing while actually engaged in lawful hunting or fishing

  6. A person who has a valid permit to carry weapons (discussed further in part two)

  7. A police officer from another state who is extraditing or removing a prisoner from Iowa, in pursuit of a suspect in Iowa, or acts in concert with local police, sheriffs, or similar agency in the State of Iowa.

  8. A person who transports prisoners under a contract with the Iowa Department of Corrections or similar agency. 

If that wasn’t enough rules for you, the Iowa Code also prohibits you from carrying “Offensive Weapons.”  These include:

  • Machine gun (i.e. fully automatic weapon)

  • Short barreled rifle or shotgun (“sawed-off”).  A short-barreled rifle or short-barreled shotgun is a rifle with a barrel or barrels less than sixteen inches in length or a shotgun with a barrel or barrels less than eighteen inches in length, as measured from the face of the closed bolt or standing breech to the muzzle, or any rifle or shotgun with an overall length less than twenty-six inches.

  • Any weapon other than a shotgun or muzzle loading rifle, cannon, pistol, revolver or musket, which fires or can be made to fire a projectile by the explosion of a propellant charge, which has a barrel or tube with the bore of more than six-tenths of an inch in diameter, or the ammunition or projectile therefor, but not including antique weapons kept for display or lawful shooting.

  • A bomb, grenade, or mine, whether explosive, incendiary, or poison gas; any rocket having a propellant charge of more than four ounces; any missile having an explosive charge of more than one-quarter ounce; or any device similar to any of these.

  • A ballistic knife. A ballistic knife is a knife with a detachable blade which is propelled by a spring-operated mechanism, elastic material, or compressed gas.

  • Any bullet or projectile containing any explosive mixture or chemical compound capable of exploding or detonating prior to or upon impact, or any shotshell or cartridge containing exothermic pyrophoric misch metal as a projectile which is designed to throw or project a flame or fireball to simulate a flamethrower.

  • Any mechanical device specifically constructed and designed so that when attached to a firearm silences, muffles, or suppresses the sound when fired. However, this does not apply to a mechanical device possessed and used by a person solely for the purpose of shooting a deer pursuant to an approved city special deer population control plan if the person has a valid federal permit to possess and use the mechanical device.

Offensive weapons do not include:

  • An antique firearm. An antique firearm is any firearm, including any firearm with a matchlock, flintlock, percussion cap, or similar type of ignition system, manufactured in or before 1898 or any firearm which is a replica of such a firearm if such replica is not designed or redesigned for using conventional rimfire or centerfire fixed ammunition or which uses only rimfire or centerfire fixed ammunition which is no longer manufactured in the United States and which is not readily available in the ordinary channels of commercial trade.

  • A collector's item. A collector's item is any firearm other than a machine gun that by reason of its date of manufacture, value, design, and other characteristics is not likely to be used as a weapon. The commissioner of public safety shall designate by rule firearms which the commissioner determines to be collector's items and shall revise or update the list of firearms at least annually.

  • Any device which is not designed or redesigned for use as a weapon; any device which is designed solely for use as a signaling, pyrotechnic, line-throwing, safety, or similar device; or any firearm which is unserviceable by reason of being unable to discharge a shot by means of an explosive and is incapable of being readily restored to a firing condition.

If you are convicted of possessing an “offensive weapon,” you looking at a Class D Felony conviction.  A Class D felony is punishable by all of the following: 5 years imprisonment and a potential fine of $750 to $7,500, plus 35% criminal surcharge and court costs. 

There are still more ways that you can get in trouble by possessing a weapon.  For example, if a person commits a public offense involving a firearm or offensive weapon within a “weapons free zone,” which is the area within 1000 feet of a school, or on the property comprising a public park (not including any portion of a park designated as a hunting area), a person has to pay double the maximum fine applicable for that offense.  For example, if a person commits an aggravated misdemeanor carrying weapons offense, the fine would be $12,500, plus 35% surcharge and court costs!
This information is intended to give you an overview of what you can and can’t do with a NON-FIREARM weapon in Iowa.  For information regarding firearm/gun rights and laws in Iowa, stay tuned for Part II of this blog.  And of course, if you ever find yourself in the unfortunate position of being charged with a weapons offense, call the knowledgeable attorneys at GRL Law to help you protect your rights.