Gun ban remains at courthouse

The Monroe County Board of Supervisors met with Monroe County Attorney John Pabst during their Dec. 23 meeting to discuss a recent letter they received from JD Thompson of Albia regarding prohibiting weapons in the Monroe County courthouse. The letter was also published as a “Letter to the Editor” in the Dec. 15 Monroe County News.

Thompson claimed in his letter that signs at the Monroe County Courthouse prohibiting “… the possession of any and all dangerous weapons … ” in the courthouse are in violation of Iowa Codes 724.28 and 724.32.

According to Thompson’s letter, code 724.28 states: “A political subdivision of the state shall not enact an ordinance regulating the ownership, possession, legal transfer, or transportation, registration, or licensing of firearms when the ownership, possession, transfer, or transportation is otherwise lawful under the laws of this state. An ordinance regulating firearms in violation of this section existing on or after April 5, 1990 is void.”

Thompson’s letter further stated that HF517 passed in 2017 reinforced 724.28 by defining “a political subdivision of the state” to mean a city county or township and that “If a political subdivision of the state, prior to, on, or after 2017, adopts, makes, enacts, or amends any ordinance, measure, enactment, rule resolution, motion or policy regulating the ownership, possession, legal transfer, lawful transportation, registration or licensing of firearms when the ownership, possession, transfer, or transportation is otherwise lawful under the laws of this state, a person adversely affected by the ordinance, measure, enactment, rule resolution, motion or policy may file suit in the appropriate court for declaratory and injunctive relief for damages.”

Finally, Thompson’s letter stated that HF2502 which was signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds on June 25, 2020 reinforced HF517, 724.28 by adding a new section, 724.32 which states, “County courthouse—weapon prohibitions. A supreme court or judicial branch order that prohibits a person from lawfully carrying, possessing, or transporting a weapon in a county courthouse or other joint-use public facility shall be unenforceable unless the judicial order applies only to a courtroom or a court office, or to a courthouse used only for judicial branch functions.”

This new section of the law was passed presumably to render a supervisory order by the Iowa Supreme Court moot. Pabst presented that order and it’s supplement to the board of supervisors. The order from June 19, 2017 states that “weapons in courtrooms, court-controlled spaces, and public areas of courthouses and other justice centers occupied by the court system” are prohibited.

A supplement to the supervisory order filed on Dec. 19, 2017, states that the order would remain in effect for every courthouse in Iowa, but “upon written request of a county board of supervisors, or other controlling entity, the chief judge shall modify the weapons prohibition … by eliminating the prohibition in public areas on floors of a courthouse not totally occupied by the court system.”

This would mean that the weapons prohibition would remain in effect for any courtrooms or court offices in a courthouse or any floors totally occupied by the court system, but that in all other offices and public areas in the courthouse the weapons prohibition would cease upon a written request from a county board of supervisors. The order also clarified that “a courthouse shall include any building in which the court system occupies space and includes a law enforcement or justice center maintained by a county and/or city in which the court system occupies space.”

According to Pabst, in his legal opinion, the Iowa Supreme Court order is lawful and still in effect. Just because the Iowa legislature passed a law to try and nullify it, that does not stop it from being in effect. The situation would need to be adjudicated in the courts to decide whether the court’s order or the legislature’s law is correct. That has not occurred.

Pabst said he believed the letter was part of an attempt to get all courthouses in Iowa to permit weapons on the premises. The original letter sent by Thompson appeared to be a form letter that was originally addressed to the Carroll County courthouse that had been altered to address the Monroe County courthouse. Pabst said he could see the validity of the legal argument in Thompson’s letter but felt that the county had to abide by the Iowa Supreme Court order at this time.

“There is no question in my mind that Judge Cady’s order is a valid order and I think we’re obligated to follow it,” said Pabst. “I can not advise the board or anyone … to ignore an order of a justice of the Iowa Supreme Court which is lawfully entered.”

So Pabst advised that the board of supervisors were within their discretion to continue the prohibition on the entire courthouse, or they could request to lift the prohibition on all parts of the building not occupied by courtrooms or court offices. According to Pabst, all three floors of the Monroe County courthouse contain courtrooms or court offices, but no floor is totally occupied by the court.

“We’ve got the Magistrate’s Court it’s on the first floor … the clerk’s office is on second floor and the courtroom itself is on the third floor,” said Pabst.

Pabst said he had sent his response to Thompson and had not heard from him yet.

Thompson’s letter requested that all signs prohibiting weapons in the courthouse be removed and all employees be made aware of the removal.

Supervisor John Hughes stated that he did not want the board to request to modify the order at this time and would like the signs to remain in place. He felt since there are courtrooms or court offices on every floor of the building, the order should remain in place for security reasons. Supervisor Mike Beary concurred. Supervisor Dennis Amoss was not present for the meeting.

After the discussion the board adjourned their meeting.

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