Woodbury, Madison County Supervisors Get Rid of Courthouse Weapons Bans

Jun 28, 2017

Boards of Supervisors in two Iowa counties have voted to get rid of bans on weapons in their courthouses, ahead of a new firearms law going into effect July 1.   

The votes are in conflict with an order by Chief Justice Mark Cady banning weapons in courthouses in all 99 counties.  

Woodbury County has banned weapons in the courthouse since 2014.  

Sheriffs don't take sides on court orders. -Woodbury County Sheriff Dave Drew

But the new state firearms law says local governments can be sued over weapons restrictions, so supervisors voted Tuesday 3 to 1 to lift the ban.    

"To not do so would place us in the untenable position of being sued as a board, and then answering something that we knew was wrong in the first place," said Woodbury County Supervisors Chair Matthew Ung. "I was not willing to do that, and fortunately a majority of the board was not either."

Ung called the vote a "hard decision," since it puts the county in defiance of the June 19 order from Chief Justice Mark Cady.

"When Iowans believe their courthouses and court facilities are not safe, the integrity of the entire justice process is compromised and undermined," Cady wrote.

Ung objects that Cady’s order applies to the entire courthouse.

We're staying out of it. -Madison County Supervisor Phil Clifton

"Not only courtrooms, which we recognize as being under their authority, but also court-controlled spaces, public areas of courthouses, intended to encompass the entire public area of the building," Ung said.  "A majority of our board had a problem with that."

But the situation remains unclear. Woodbury County Sheriff Dave Drew says he will obey the court order and continue to provide security at the courthouse door, including keeping firearms out.  

"Sheriffs don’t take sides on court orders," Drew wrote in a letter to the board.  "They carry out whatever the court renders."

Drew hopes the issue can be clarified. 

"The Woodbury County Sheriff's Office has asked our County Attorney to ask for guidance from [the] Attorney General here in Iowa in regards to the new law," said Major Tony Wingert in an email.

When the Chief Justice issued his order, 77 Iowa counties had courthouse weapons bans in place.  

Madison County supervisors also voted to lift their ban.   

"With the [Iowa] Supreme Court order that was passed last week, they pretty much took that matter onto themselves, so we repealed ours and we're staying out of it," said Madison County Board of Supervisors Chair Phil Clifton.