Felony gun violations increase in Johnson County

Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness reported increases in multiple felony firearm violations cases throughout the area. Efforts against the rise are underway but are a work in progress.


Grace Smith

The Johnson County Administration Building is seen on South Dubuque Street in Iowa City on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022.

Colin Votzmeyer, News Reporter

Johnson County officials are calling for reduced gun crimes after the county recorded a rise in felony gun violations since 2019.

Johnson County Sheriff Brad Kunkel said the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office has specifically seen an increase in arrests of people prohibited from carrying weapons, gunfire incidents, and displays of weapons in road rage incidents.

“Guns are popping up, and it’s just more and more instances and calls,” Kunkel said. “Guns and crimes involving guns have always been around … I do think we’re seeing more of them in the last couple of years or so.”

He said he speculates gun sales, gun thefts in car burglaries, straw purchases, and the use of guns in conflicts have all contributed to the increase.

“It certainly does seem like people are more willing to just resort straight to using a gun to solve problems versus some other sorts of just resolving conflict,” Kunkel said. “People are going straight to pulling a gun in a state of anger or even just to threaten people, and we just haven’t seen [it] to this magnitude like we are now.”

Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness released the felony gun violations statistics in Johnson County from 2019 through Oct. 2022 to the The Daily Iowan:

  • The county reported 50 cases of people prohibited from possessing a firearm through October and 35 cases in 2021.
  • The county reported 38 cases of persons ineligible to carry dangerous weapons through October and 13 cases in 2021.
  • Sixteen cases of cases of going armed with intent were reported through October and nine cases were reported in 2021.
  • The county reported 13 cases of intimidation with a dangerous weapon through October and 10 cases in 2021.

Lyness said Iowa’s new weapon permit law is the cause of the rise.

The law, HF756 was signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds, R-Iowa, and took effect July 1, 2021. The law “removes the requirement for a permit to acquire or a permit to carry in order to purchase a handgun or carry a firearm in public places subject to certain limitations.”

“There’s just a lot more guns out there,” Lyness said. “Now that they can get a gun without a permit, then they pull out a gun to solve all the problems. That’s why we have, I think, a lot more shootings that are occurring.”

According to Handgunlaw.us, 23 states don’t require a permit to carry. This does not include South Dakota, which allows permit-less carry for residents only, and Louisiana, which allows limited permit-less carry.

Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota require permits, whereas South Dakota, Iowa, and Missouri do not.

Lyness said the increase is worrisome.

“We’re really concerned, and we really want to take some action to try to get these numbers down,” she said. “It’s very hard on the community when there’s gunshots around, and people feel in danger, and we really want to get that addressed.”

First Assistant Johnson County Attorney Rachel Zimmermann Smith has been working on a community violence initiative program, which she said is in its initial stages. She said the program would pair police with the community, especially youth, to avert gun violence before it happens.

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“It can’t just be law enforcement in deterring, and it can’t just be a community program. They have to work hand-in-hand,” Zimmermann Smith said. “While law enforcement has done a great job, as much as they can do, the goal of a community violence intervention program is to try to intervene before things get violent and do things out in the community to prevent the violence from happening in the first place.”

Kunkel said combatting the increase is “definitely a work in progress” for the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office.

“We take a very serious approach to any gun crime, and it’s something that we are going to do everything we can to thoroughly investigate and hold people accountable,” he said. “If we have the facts and the evidence, we’re going to file the appropriate charges and make sure that the people responsible have their day in court.”