Going to Court in Iowa? Better Leave Your Gun at Home.

by | June 22, 2017

By Trish Mehaffey

The Iowa Supreme Court issued an order Monday that bans weapons in all 99 courthouses and justice centers across the state.

The policy prohibits guns from all courtrooms, court-controlled spaces and public areas of the courthouses and other justice centers, Chief Justice Mark Cady said in the order. The order doesn't interfere with the authority of county or city officials to determine employment policies for their employees who may work in offices within the court buildings or affect the authority of law enforcement to carry weapons while performing their duties within those buildings.

According to the Iowa Constitution, Cady said, the Iowa Supreme Court has the power to "exercise supervisory and administrative control" over the district courts.

"With the power to supervise and administer courts come the responsibility to promote safety in courthouses and court facilities," Cady added.

He also pointed out courtroom proceedings at times can be emotional and controversial, and these "threats" aren't just confined to courtrooms, they also threaten the safety of any individual who comes into the courthouses to conduct business and to those who work in these buildings.

There are 72 counties that prohibit weapons in courtrooms and other court-controlled spaces within courthouses, according to the order. These bans are issued by county ordinance or by an administrative order of the chief judge.

Further:

--11 counties, including Johnson in the 6th Judicial District, that ban weapons in all county buildings

--44 counties prohibit weapons in a courthouse, including all counties in the 6th District -- Linn, Johnson, Tama, Benton, Jones and Iowa

--16 counties ban weapons only in areas the judicial branch controls.

Cady said in the order that while the weapons policies were implemented to make the courtrooms safer, they have "failed to provide uniform protection across the state and throughout every courthouse."

He acknowledged implementing a statewide weapons policy and the issue of restricting weapons is difficult, and this becomes more complex because city and county offices are within many court buildings. But he added it's the court's "constitutional responsibility" to make these buildings safe "before history records more acts of courthouse violence."

This statewide ban comes only two weeks before the new state law goes into effect, on July 1, which would allow someone to bring a lawsuit against local gun bans. The law, signed by then-Gov. Terry Branstad April 13, gives gun owners the ability to sue local governments if they have been "adversely affected" by a firearm ban.

Steve Davis, Iowa Judicial Branch communications director, on Tuesday wouldn't say if this policy was in direct response to the new law but did said courthouse security has been a concern of judicial officials since at least 1999. He pointed out that Cady has referred to courthouse security many times in his state of the judiciary speeches.

County officials in the Corridor Tuesday said they were glad to see the court take this position.

Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson said the board wasn't going to change its policy, which prohibits weapons in the courthouses, but it's good to have clarification in light of the new law.

"The courts have the right to control the courthouses and justice centers," Oleson said.

Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan said he and other supervisors also had no plans to lift the gun ban in those county buildings. He added that Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness had advised the board the current use of existing security equipment and staff was appropriate and within the county's authority.

A 2003 opinion from the Iowa Attorney General's Office stated that Iowa law allows cities and counties to regulate firearms on city- or county-owned property. Elected bodies relied on that opinion when passing their respective gun bans.

6th Judicial District Chief Judge Patrick Grady said he was "pleasantly surprised" about the order and he thought it was a "courageous" move by the court that showed "good leadership." Grady, who was at the annual Iowa Judges Association Judicial Conference in Des Moines, added that it was well received by the majority of the judges in attendance when Cady told them he was issuing the order.

"This just underscores the commitment to making the courts safe for everybody," Grady said.

(c)2017 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)