Woodbury County Courthouse team will look at security in wake of gun laws
In April, when the legislation was making its way to then-Gov. Terry Branstad’s desk, Woodbury County Attorney P.J. Jennings said he feared his office employees will be under increased danger from expanded firearms rights. Last week, Jennings told the county board of supervisors he is speaking with other county attorneys and trying to see what changes are defensible to keep people in public buildings safe. Opponents worry the law will escalate gun violence and asserted the bill would take away the ability of government officials to regulate weapons in public buildings. While the bill was being debated, law enforcement officials said they worried it would allow people to sue local governments, like Woodbury County, that prohibit the possession of guns in courthouses. The Iowa Judges Association, Iowa Clerks of Court Association and Iowa State Bar Association all opposed the bill on those grounds.
Jennings said it appears the Iowa Attorney General won’t be giving an opinion on the new law and how it impacts courthouse security prior to the July 1 effective date. Woodbury County Sheriff Dave Drew said other county sheriffs have told him their supervisors have no plans to sever courthouse security plans. Jennings would not pinpoint the changes he wants, saying he would present those to the county’s courthouse security committee, then bring back recommendations to the county supervisors. Expanding the existing security measures would result in additional labor and other costs. Jennings has painted a picture of disgruntled people coming to extol revenge for court decisions they don’t like.
“We need to protect our employees. We receive threats almost every day,” he said.
A metal detector was installed at the sole entrance to the Woodbury County Courthouse in 2014, in part spurred by encouragement by Jennings to add the equipment and security personnel. Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, the House sponsor of the expanded firearms rights law, said the changes are indicative of what Iowans need, deserve” and have sought as gun rights for many years. The new law, among other things, broadens the state s so-called stand-your-ground provision, so a law-abiding citizen does not have a duty to retreat in a public place before using deadly force when confronted with danger to life or property.