Northwest Iowa Firearms

Northwest Iowa Firearms in Hull is one of several gun stores in the area. A new “constitutional carry” state law allows Iowans to purchase and carry handguns without a permit, though they will still have to pass the federal background checks for sales at licensed gun shops.

REGIONAL—Big changes to state gun laws will only create small impacts in N’West Iowa, according to firearm instructors and law enforcement officials.

While Iowans will no longer need a permit to purchase and carry handguns, those without a permit still have to pass the federal background check to buy a gun at a store and the policy would only apply within state borders.

Because Iowa already has lax firearm regulations, area firearm trainers and law-enforcement officials said they do not expect much to change.

“There are guns everywhere. There are a lot of gun permits that have been issued. We issue lots of them,” said Lyon County sheriff Stewart Vander Stoep. “The ones that are getting gun permits, they’re law-abiding citizens who are not trouble.”

Signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds earlier this month, Iowa will become what supporters call a “constitutional carry” state effective July 1. The new law allows for concealed and open carry.

“You’re always going to have certain people carrying guns that didn’t have a permit, but you had that already,” Vander Stoep, a Republican, said. “I just don’t foresee it changing a whole lot of anything.”

Democrats in Des Moines said the policy would exacerbate what they see as existing gun-related issues. Party chair Ross Wilburn said in a statement that the law demonstrates “Reynolds’ reckless disregard for the safety and well-being of Iowans.”

According to the latest statistics available, there were 294 firearm deaths in Iowa in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Democrats also took aim at deregulated private sales, which Wilburn said “aren’t safer,” even for gun-owning communities.

Permits still recommended

Vander Stoep said it still is a good idea to get a gun permit, noting the different state laws in the two states that border his county.

“I would still make sure I carried a gun permit in South Dakota even though they don’t require their citizens to carry gun permits anymore,” the sheriff said. “And Minnesota, you know, Minnesota is always different it seems like.”

In the Land of 10,000 Lakes, classes and permits must be administered in the state to legally purchase and carry firearms.

Kevin Miller coordinates the monthly permit-to-carry courses at Northwest Iowa Community College in Sheldon. He said he is working “to enhance the class to adapt with the new law.”

About 15-20 people on average register for the training, available for $60, and the coordinator said he hopes and expects there to still be demand for such learning.

“Firearms are like anything, it is important to know how to use them, but also know how to safely handle, store, and transport them,” Miller said.

He also said that NCC wants to remind visitors that the college is a weapons-free campus.

Other regulations

A Federal Firearms License, or FFL, is required for gun stores nationwide. Even with the new law, the federal background check system is still in place for such sales.

The difference comes with private sales. Previously, weapons permits were required for all sales, including between individuals. The new regulation simply states the seller must block the purchase if they “know or reasonably should know” the prospective buyer is legally barred from owning a gun.

While difficult to enforce, violating the regulation is a felony punishable by five-year imprisonment and $7,500 fine.

Nate Huizenga, chief deputy at the Sioux County Sheriff’s Office, said that any present problems with firearms are neither solved or worsened by the law. As the officer who normally deals with permits, he said there’s “not a huge difference” even with the lack of a license mandate.

“And there’s still checks and balances if you’re going to a FFL dealer,” Huizenga said of background checks.

He and Vander Stoep said they think most Iowans will continue to get licenses. Huizenga added that his office has received lots of questions from citizens about the new policy and his website — siouxcountysheriff.com — will soon have an FAQ page.