MASON CITY ñ As of Friday a total of 488 permits to carry a gun have been issued this year in Cerro Gordo County, passing last year’s total of 482.
The pace of permits to buy handguns is brisk as well, with 112 issued so far compared to 561 in all of last year.
Sheriff Kevin Pals said the increase in carry permits is due to a change in state law that makes it easier to obtain a permit. Under the new “Shall issue” law that went into effect Jan. 1, sheriffs have less discretion in determining who should be granted a permit to carry a loaded weapon. The old law said the sheriff “may” issue a permit. The new law says the sheriff “shall” issue a permit when requested.
The intent of the new law was to standardize the permitting process. While gun advocates say that allowing law-abiding citizens to carry weapons reduces crime, gun-control advocates fear it is putting weapons into the hands of more people who shouldn’t have them.
Pals, speaking Thursday to the Mason City Noon Kiwanis Club, said a permit may be denied if the applicant is a felon or there is a warrant for arrest; if the person has renounced U.S. citizenship; or has been adjudicated mentally deficient or addicted to alcohol or drugs.
Many of those seeking permits to carry guns are doing so because the new permits are good for five years instead of just one, Pals said. Most of the permits issued this year are new permits, he said Friday. But that doesn’t mean they were granted to people who haven’t had them before. A permit is considered new if the previous one had expired, and many gun owners let their old one expire in anticipation of the new law, Pals said.
He said applicants must show proof of training by a state-certified program or one approved by the National Rifle Association.
Trainers can include anyone honorably discharged from the military, even if it was many years ago, Pals said. He noted that his father, who was discharged 50 years ago, could serve as a trainer, but that doesn’t mean he would be up to date on safety instruction.
Pals said that currently, the requirements for law-officer weapons certification is tighter than for civilians. He said there are at least nine bills proposed in the Iowa Legislature to shore up loopholes in the new law. “I’m not sure anything’s going to be changed, but … it is what it is. You just deal with it.”
Guns are still prohibited on school property, in federal courthouses and in buildings with signs prohibiting them, but they are permitted in many public buildings. Recently the Cerro Gordo County Board approved a ban on guns and other dangerous weapons in the courthouse and other county buildings and parking lots.
Pals said that personally he doesn’t understand why so many people would want to carry a handgun. After 32 years in law enforcement ñ the past 10 as sheriff ñ he knows well that carrying a gun is uncomfortable, and that prolonged carrying can lead to nerve and other damage to the person’s body.
The new law forbids sheriffs from stipulating that guns must be concealed by the permit holder. Pals said his office received a call recently about a man walking around the Mason City Public Library with a gun visible on his hip. He was asked if he had a permit and said he did.
Pals said that once summer arrives and the need for heavy coats is gone, it will be apparent that many more people are carrying guns.
“The best advice to the general public is if you’re somewhere and a crime goes down, call 911,” Pals said. It’s better to let the professionals handle the situation than for citizens to try to take matters into their own hands, even if they are armed, he said.|