A central Iowa sheriff says a loophole in Iowa law is forcing sheriffs to issue gun permits to unstable people who may use the gun to commit suicide. Story County Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald aired his concern Tuesday during testimony before a state senate committee.
“A person came into the Story County Sheriff’s office and wanted a permit to carry a concealed weapon. As a routine procedure, we run the appropriate checks to see if there are any federal disqualifiers,” Fitzgerald said. “One of these checks is called the NICS check. That stands for National Instant Criminal Background Check System which came back with a comment that the person being run ‘has suicidal tendencies.'”
The person’s employer told the Story County sheriff’s office federal law prohibits the release of the individual’s health records.
“My office then contacted the Iowa Department of Public Safety Program Services Bureau that oversees the gun permits and after discussion on this specific case, there was no alternative but to issue the permit,” Fitzgerald said.
State law was changed in 2010 to make Iowa a “shall issue” state, requiring sheriffs to issue gun permits if the individual passes a background check. Fitzgerald contends “suicidal tendencies” aren’t a disqualifier and in this particular case, that’s worrisome.
“If a tragedy does happen with that individual in my county it’s going to come back, ‘The sheriff knew he had suicidal tendencies and gave him a permit anyway,'” Fitzgerald said. “My hands are tied, as are the other 98 sheriffs tied in this state.”
Representative Matt Windschitl, a Republican from Missouri Valley, runs background checks regularly at the gun shop his family owns and he’s never heard of a situation like the one Fitzgerald describes. Windschitl says the background check system tells someone whether the gun sale can proceed, be delayed or is denied. And Windschitl worries false claims that someone has “suicidal tendencies” might keep an Iowan from legally getting a gun.