DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa is set to become the latest state to allow gun owners to keep firearms at their side while visiting the state Capitol, a move that has raised questions about how security workers would deal with armed visitors.
When Republican Gov. Terry Branstad signs the measure Thursday as part of a wide-ranging gun bill, it will mirror similar activity at statehouses around the U.S. in recent years.
Under the provision approved by the GOP-controlled Legislature, any U.S. resident with a valid weapons permit could bring a concealed handgun into the Iowa Capitol. About 275,000 people in Iowa have such a permit.
The provision would require building security staff to resolve staffing and training issues before it takes effect July 1.
The current setup has visitors passing through metal detectors at the building’s two basement entrances, which are staffed by unarmed security guards. Armed state troopers also staff the Capitol and building grounds, though their locations and hours aren’t disclosed.
Part of the challenge will be figuring out how often armed visitors would come to the Capitol, said Capt. Mark Logsdon, who heads Capitol security.
“Is this something that you’re going to encounter every day, or maybe a day or two a week?” he asked.
Capitol security will need new guidelines, which must be approved in a rules-making process that can take several weeks and allows for public comment, said Ross Loder, bureau chief for weapons permits at the Iowa Department of Public Safety.
The Iowa Department of Administrative Services, which oversees the Capitol grounds, would write the rules. The department is “still determining what needs to be done pending the bill being signed,” spokeswoman Tami Wiencek said in an email.
At least 17 states allow guns in their Capitols, according to data compiled by the National Rifle Association’s lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action. The National Conference of State Legislatures estimates the figure is slightly higher, with an upward trend in the last five years.
Among states that allow guns in their Capitols, Kansas, New Mexico and Utah have no restrictions, while Florida, New Hampshire, Oregon and Wisconsin allow only concealed permit holders to be armed. Missouri and Arkansas enacted Capitol gun provisions this year.
“Iowa state lawmakers know it is hypocritical of them to allow carry elsewhere but to ban it in the Capitol building,” Catherine Mortensen, a spokeswoman for the NRA lobbying group, said in an email. “In the halls where freedom is celebrated, freedoms should be exercised.”
While Logsdon feels his staff can handle monitoring new weapons in the Capitol, he does have some concerns about how guns will mix with heated debates and big crowds as lawmakers take up divisive issues.
“Oftentimes you bring people like that collectively in the same area you’d be pretty naive not to think … that doesn’t create some kind of concerning environment for people,” he said.
Supporters of allowing concealed weapons holders to carry guns say they could use those weapons to stop someone intent on killing people. Republicans who supported the legislation noted that despite metal detectors, an armed intruder could get into the Capitol through other doors that don’t have security checkpoints.
“We should not be disarming citizens at the door. They pay for this place,” Rep. Matt Windschitl, a Republican from Missouri Valley in western Iowa, said from the House floor.
Opponents included Rep. Mary Wolfe, a Democrat from Clinton in eastern Iowa. She said during debate in the House that some weapons permits could be forged. She added that without clear guidelines, the public, including schoolchildren who frequently visit the Capitol, could get hurt “and they will have no one to blame except us.”
Branstad said he would work with security personnel if there are concerns over staffing and their budget.
“I just want to make sure that the safety of the citizens of our state is protected and people feel that they have access to the Capitol and the rights of our citizens under the Second Amendment are also protected,” he said.