Supervisors discuss weapons ban

By Xiomara Levsen, The JOURNAL


The supervisors approved letting Washington County attorney John Gish write a letter to apply for an exemption from the weapons ban at the courthouse in certain areas at the meeting Wednesday morning.

Before this was approved, Gish brought up the history of when the weapons ban went into effect and where the idea for exemptions came from.

In June of this year, the Iowa Supreme Court issued an order citing the state constitution banning weapons in all state courthouses including public spaces, such as hallways, Gish said. On Dec. 19, the supreme court amended that order saying supervisors could send a letter to the chief judge asking for control over public spaces the court would have to allow it.

?In other words, if the Board of Supervisors agree in writing a request [where] firearms be permitted in spaces not occupied by the court system, then that request would be granted,? Gish said.

Gish said he would happily write the letter for supervisors if they decided to pursue it.

?Do we have to name specifically each room?? supervisor Stan Stoops asked Gish. ?Would that be the right thing to do??

?It?s by floor,? Gish replied. ?The order says floors not formally occupied by the court system and in my view we could list the basement and the first floor and then leave out the second floor.?

The second floor is where the courtrooms and judges? offices are, he added. This is where weapons would still be banned.

?Do they have to sign that if we request it or it?s still their option?? supervisor Abe Miller asked Gish.

The order said ?shall,? Gish said. He didn?t see any reason for the judge not to sign it.

Miller asked if the county would need to put up signs letting the public know where weapons were banned in the building. Gish said he didn?t see anything in the letter referring to that, but they could do so to let the public know.

Chairman Richard Young asked Gish what would happen to someone who went to the second floor with a weapon.

?I haven?t reviewed what kind of charges would be available,? Gish said. ?I would review every case on its own merit, but I think an appropriate charge would be maybe contempt, which is contempt of court. Neither order really discusses what kind of consequences there are.?

Supervisor Jack Seward Jr. asked Gish if the courtroom would still be considered even when court isn?t in session.

?It?s a public meeting room the third Saturday of every month in January, February and March,? Seward said. ?So how would this impact that particular issue??

?That?s a great question,? Gish replied. ?My interpretation is the courtrooms, whether they are in session or not, are still a state court area, so the ban would still prohibit even the legislative session.?

Seward said the only people who would obey the ban even when court is in session are the law-abiding people. This would make them defenseless and unable to protect themselves against someone who is wanting to harm others.

?That?s a concern of mine,? Seward added. ?I understand that is just the way it is and I understand the interpretation of the laws that exist.?

Supervisor Bob Yoder asked what the law was currently and if it meant the whole courthouse.

Currently, it is the whole courthouse, Gish said, but he didn?t think the county had acted on that yet because there were still a lot of questions about the authority of the state?s supreme court to do that.

?I?ve always thought the supreme court was to interpret law, not make law,? Young said. ?I know you don?t want to answer that.?

Gish said he didn?t disagree with Young and had privately discussed the issue with each of the supervisors.

Miller said he thought they should take advantage of the exemption and made the motion for Gish to do so. The motion was seconded by Stoops.

Yoder said before passing the motion he would like table this and have more public input on it.

?I would say no,? Young said. ?This is our decision ? us five.?

?I guess I would like to know more of what my constituents think,? Yoder said.

?Well, we have a motion and a second now ? already made, so we?re going to have to take a vote,? Young said. ?If you choose to vote no, it?s your decision.?

Yoder did just that. He voted no against the motion, but it passed 4-1.