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Iowa gun permits climb in second year of relaxed law

CEDAR RAPIDS (AP) — The number of Iowans with permits to carry concealed weapons increased dramatically in 2012, the second year of a relaxed law governing how they’re issued.

Sheriffs in Iowa’s 99 counties issued more than 37,000 permits in the first 11 months of the year, according to The Gazette in Cedar Rapids.

Nearly 103,000 were issued in 2011, the first year after Iowa went from a “may issue” to a “shall issue” state.

State data show that 1.3 percent of Iowans had permits at the end of 2010, before the law changed. The percentage increased to 3.3 percent at the end of last year, and stood at 4.6 percent through the first 11 months of this year.

Though the law seems to be working well, with few untoward incidents involving permit holders, sheriffs remain concerned that the system allows potentially dangerous people to buy and carry handguns.

The law that liberalized the issuance of weapons permits includes a provision requiring the Iowa Department of Public Safety to forward disqualifying mental health information to the FBI.

While the federal Gun Control Act of 1968 prohibits mentally ill people from possessing firearms, it specifies that people can be deprived of that right only if they have been declared mentally unfit by a court or have been committed to an institution for the mentally ill.

The FBI database, which is used for background checks on applicants for permits to own and carry weapons in Iowa and other states, flags applicants with the two disqualifying mental health statuses.

During 2011, Iowa clerk of court offices transmitted to the FBI database 2,369 mental health disqualification records, said Ross Loder, bureau chief of the Iowa Department of Public Safety. As a practical matter, the system includes few such records generated before 2011, he said.

Linn County Sheriff Brian Gardner said, “Absolutely that is a concern. Mental illness is a key factor in most of the mass murders” such as the fatal school shootings Dec. 14 in Newtown, Conn.

Johnson County sheriff’s Maj. Steve Dolezal said the limitations that the “shall issue” law places on sheriffs’ discretion in issuing gun permits is especially harmful in the case of applicants with mental health issues.

“We’ve lost the ability to take input from family, friends, neighbors and employers — the people with the best insights into an applicant’s mental health status,” Dolezal said.

Gardner said jail and prison populations include a high percentage of people suffering from mental illness. In most cases, he said, “they don’t get any treatment until they come to me.”

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