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Iowa Gun Legislation & Its Impact on Government Health Care Facilities - May 25, 2017

Last month, former Governor Branstad signed House File 517 which significantly expands the rights of gun owners in Iowa.  The legislation also allows Iowans to sue cities or counties that enact “gun-free zones.”  Specifically, the legislation prohibits a “political subdivision” from enacting an ordinance regulating the ownership, possession, transfer, transportation, registration, or licensing of firearms if otherwise lawful. 


City and County Hospitals - are they included?

Many government owned and operated health care facilities, including city and county hospitals, restrict the possession of firearms on their campuses or in certain areas of the facility, such as patient care or treatment areas.  Questions have arisen regarding the applicability of this new law to these city and county health care facilities and the ability of such facilities to continue to place restrictions on the possession of firearms on their campuses.   While these government owned facilities are often considered “political subdivisions” this particular legislation has limited the definition of a “political subdivision” to a “city, county, or township.”  


It Depends on the Definition of Political Subdivision

Due to the limited definition of “political subdivision” used by the legislation, we do not believe the restriction should apply to government owned health care facilities organized under specific chapters of the Iowa Code, such as city and county hospitals.  It is also our understanding from discussions with Iowa Hospital Association representatives that one of the legislation’s sponsors has made statements that the bill was not intended to apply to public hospitals.  While we believe there is a strong argument the law does not apply to government health care facilities, because of the absence of a specific exemption in the legislation, it is possible an individual could try to challenge the health care facility’s restriction on the basis of the new legislation and argue it is applicable to these facilities. 


Bottom Line

Government health care facilities restricting the possession of firearms on their campuses should be prepared to face questions from patients and visitors in light of the new legislation.