Gun offenses, crimes remain steady in Iowa City, Johnson County over four-year period

In Johnson County, there has been an increase in the prosecution of felons possessing firearms while gun violence rates have remained steady.


Matt Sindt

Police tape is seen in front of Brother’s Bar and Grill after reports of shots fired near the Pedestrian Mall on in Iowa City, Iowa on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023. Officers were able to detain the shooter, no one is believed to have been injured.

Alejandro Rojas and Jack Moore

Gun offenses and crimes have remained steady for the past four years in Johnson County despite an increase in the prosecutions of firearm possession.

The Johnson County Attorney’s Office prosecuted 80 cases involving guns between 2019 and 2020, according to data provided by County Attorney Rachel Zimmermann Smith. It remains unclear whether gun crimes and deaths are becoming more frequent across the county.

Data from the Johnson County Medical Examiner’s Office show that firearm fatalities declined in 2018 but have been steadily rising back to around 20 deaths per year. The Medical Examiner’s office investigates sudden or unexpected deaths that are due to unnatural causes to determine the cause and manner of death of the deceased.

Johnson County Medical Examiner Executive Director Clayton Schuneman said the most common type of gun-inflicted injury was death by suicide. In 2022, 21 people died in Johnson County from firearms, and 13 were death by suicide.

“One of the primary responsibilities that we have is to investigate all these deaths and then collate this data and put that in the hands of people who can make policy decisions,” Schuneman said.

Schuneman said most of the suicides and homicides the Medical Examiner’s Office investigates are from handguns rather than higher caliber firearms.

“[It’s] pretty noticeable that the vast majority of those are occurring with handguns as opposed to rifles or shotguns, and that includes suicides and our homicides,” Schuneman said.

Gun offenses and prosecutions in Johnson County, Iowa City

The Johnson County Attorney prosecuted 43 people for possession of a firearm as a felon between 2019 and 2020:

  • The county attorney reported 21 firearm-related offenses in 2019.
  • The county attorney reported 22 firearm-related offenses in 2020.
  • The county attorney reported 35 firearm-related offenses in 2021.

The second most notable increase was prosecutions of persons ineligible to carry dangerous weapons. This number jumped from 13 in 2021 to 38 in 2022.

According to publicly available data on gun offenses in Iowa City from the Iowa City Police Department, there were a total of 109 shootings from 2019-2021. The year with the most shootings in this period was 2020, when 57 shootings occurred.

The data also shows that there were five homicides in this period: three in 2021, two in 2020, and none in 2019.

UI police see decrease in calls, higher firearm-related offenses

Hayley Bruce, assistant director for communication and external relations for the Office of Campus Safety, wrote in an email to the DI that the UI Police Department saw a decrease in calls during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The three reported incidents in 2022 consisted of a suspect attempting to disarm an officer, possession of a handgun during a traffic stop, and reports of shots fired.

The University of Iowa Office of Campus Safety provided the DI with data related to gun-offenses on the university campus, which showed that firearm-related offenses on the UI’s campus were higher than normal for the last two years. There were three reported incidents in 2021, with no incidents in 2020, and only one in 2019.

In 2021, there was a possession of a firearm during a traffic stop, a report of a gun being pointed at someone with no gun recovery, and reports of shots fired on the T. Anne Clery Walkway.

RELATED: County exploring program to reduce gun violence with ARPA funds

Bruce also referred in her email to a message from Assistant Vice President for Campus Safety Mark Bullock on Feb. 22, which outlined what the UI does to address campus violence as well as the resources it has to support students.

In the message, Bullock wrote that the UI Department of Public Safety reassesses best practices after events like the murders at Michigan State University earlier this year.

This includes training campus police to a level that exceeds standards, having threat assessment and intervention programs, and supporting the mental and emotional health of people, among other things.

He also wrote what students and faculty should and can do to help them be aware and prepared for any emergencies. This included receiving Hawk Alerts, checking the emergency website during emergencies, attending trainings for violent incident survival and first aid, and reporting troubling behavior.

Bruce said, however,  that the police department can’t attribute a specific reason for the decrease in calls during the pandemic.

“While we can’t speculate on one factor behind the decrease in gun-related incidents on campus in 2020, it’s reasonable to assume that there were fewer opportunities for this type of crime on campus because many people across campus and in the wider Iowa City community were practicing social distancing and working/learning from home,” Bruce wrote.