CEDAR RAPIDS — For reasons ranging from personal security to “because I can,” the number of Iowans with permits to carry concealed weapons increased 154 percent during the first year of relaxed laws governing their issuance.
Dennis Rosekrans, 63, of rural Cedar Rapids — one of more than 60,000 Iowans who’ve secured permits in the year since Iowa went from a “may issue” to a “shall issue” state — said the main reason he obtained one is that the Legislature made it easier to do.
Rosekrans said the law change enabled him to act upon his long-held interest in taking responsibility for his and his family’s defense.
Melissa Halserty, 43, and Kelly Kellner, 41, friends and neighbors in southwest Cedar Rapids, say concern about safety and security in their homes inspired them to seek a license to carry a handgun.
“We’ve had three recent home invasions in our neighborhood, and my husband has been after me to learn how to protect myself,” Halserty said.
“It’s not the worst neighborhood in town, but it’s not the best, either,” said Kellner, whose husband often works an overnight shift. “I’d rather be safe than sorry.”
At the beginning of 2011, 39,397 Iowans had permits to carry concealed weapons, secured during an era in which county sheriffs had considerable discretion over their issuance.
At the end of 2011, with the sheriffs’ discretion largely nullified by the law, that number had climbed to 99,932, with more 2011 permits still trickling into the state database, said Sam Knowles, bureau chief of the Iowa Department of Public Safety.
That surge — during which the percentage of Iowans with a permit to carry increased from 1.3 percent to 3.3 percent — has been “a bit of a phenomenon,” Knowles said.
“Just the widespread general awareness that it is available led a lot of people to think about (obtaining a permit), but in the end, I couldn’t tell you why” the response has been so dramatic, he said.
“Honestly, I was not surprised at the increase,” said Jeff Burkett, president of the Iowa Firearms Coalition, which lobbies and advocates for the right to keep and bear arms. “I fully expected (the number of Iowa permit holders) to reach 100,000 by the end of last year.”
In Linn County, where the number of permits increased 183 percent — from 1,871 to 5,298 — during 2011, Sheriff Brian Gardner said widespread publicity surrounding the law change was the biggest factor.
“People found out how easy it was to get one and took advantage,” Gardner said.
Many Iowans “got permits just because they can,” said Lonny Pulkrabek, sheriff of Johnson County, which registered more than a fourfold increase in carry permits — from 552 to 2,270 — during the past year.
Pulkrabek and other informed observers say many of the permit holders have no intention of ever carrying their weapons in public.
“I just want to feel more competent that I could handle a dangerous confrontation if one ever occurred,” Halserty said.
Pulkrabek, a critic of the law, said Johnson County issued 381 permits last year to people with criminal records that did not include felony convictions or other disqualifies specified in the law. “I probably would have denied a good portion of them if I still had discretion,” he said.
Knowles at the Department of Public Safety said he had heard of only a few untoward incidents involving people with permits to carry, mainly drunken driving arrests of people carrying weapons.
Pulkrabek and Gardner said they still worry about the law’s lack of a requirement that applicants demonstrate proficiency with a weapon before being granted a permit.
So does Bob Godlove, a 20-year handgun instructor at the Izaak Walton League in Cedar Rapids, which for many years conducted all the training classes, including range qualification, for Linn and Johnson County weapons permit applicants.
The league, which trained 300 applicants in 2011, still requires range qualification before training certificates are signed.
“I was in favor of the ‘shall issue’ law, but I am not at all in favor of giving a permit to anyone who steps up and wants one,” Godlove said.