In the past two years, none of the information provided by the University of Iowa to the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office about students who have applied for weapons permits has resulted in a denial, according to Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek.
In a written response to news reports this week that UI officials have been sharing personal information about student behavior and academic performance when they apply for gun permits, Pulkrabek said a change in the gun permitting law in January 2011 “significantly” reduced a Sheriff’s discretion in denying gun permits. That means that, although useful for background, student information from the UI might not qualify an applicant for denial of a permit, Pulkrabek said.
“In fact, in the last two years, there has not been any information provided by the UI Police that resulted in a gun permit denial,” he said.
Before the 2011 law change, Pulkrabek said a few denials resulted from the shared information. But, he said, some of those eventually were granted after law enforcement met with UI authorities.
And, even though the sharing practice has a limited impact today, Pulkrabek defended it as beneficial.
“This does not mean we should stop fully doing background checks with local law enforcement agencies to make sure that we are doing our due diligence when looking out for the safety of the public,” he said.
Pulkrabek said receiving information that a student applicant is showing bizarre behavior or that his or her grades are sliding, “can be beneficial but on its own might not reach a level that calls for a denial on the weapons permit.”
UI officials on Thursday announced they are halting the practice indefinitely while they consult with the U.S. Department of Education, which oversees the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act.
In Pulkrabek’s response, he indicated that he doesn’t know whether the UI was violating the Act by sharing the student information.
“We believe and expect when we submit and ask for information that the University of Iowa knows what information they can legally release,” Pulkrabek said. “As the Sheriff, I do not pretend to be familiar with or an authority on the FERPA guidelines that are referred to in the article.”
The waiver that students who want a weapons permit must sign is on the Iowa Application Permit to Carry Weapons, according to Pulkrabek. The permit includes the wording, “all records concerning the applicant whether said records are of a public, private or confidential nature,” but Pulkrabek said the Sheriff’s Office is not asking to know “what grades a student is getting.”
“We are simply doing a background check with another local law enforcement agency to make sure that they do not have a major concern or reason that the person should be denied a gun permit,” he said.
The practice of checking with the UI on student applicants dates back to the Gang Lu shooting in 1991, Pulkrabek said. Lu shot six on the UI campus, killing five, before taking his own life.
“It has been in place for years and likely has not been reviewed or updated since then,” Pulkrabek said.