Concealed Carry, the First Amendment, and an Iowa Sheriff

U. S. District Court Judge Mark Bennett ordered Osceola County, Iowa Sheriff Douglas Weber to issue a concealed carry permit to Paul Dorr because the court found that Sheriff Weber had infringed Mr. Dorr’s First Amendment rights. Judge Bennett did not stop there. He ordered Sheriff Weber to take a college-level course involving the First Amendment.

Judge Bennett was quite colorful in concluding the Sheriff Weber had violated Mr. Dorr’s rights:

The court finds a tsunami, a maelstrom, an avalanche, of direct, uncontroverted evidence in Sheriff Weber’s own testimony to conclude beyond all doubt that he unquestionably violated the First Amendment rights of at least Paul Dorr.

Paul Dorr is a political activist who has been active in both the pro-life movement and the movement to lower government expenses. He had previously had an Iowa “nonprofessional permit to carry a weapon” (the equivalent of a concealed carry permit in Iowa) from the late 1990s until 2006. Thought he thought Mr. Dorr “weird”, Sheriff Weber had approved his permit in 2005 and 2006.

In 2007, however, Sheriff Weber denied Mr. Dorr’s permit writing on the application “Concern from Public. Don’t trust him.” The sheriff thought Mr. Dorr was “weird” and had heard many comments from the general public saying essentially the same thing. He also told Mr. Dorr that he wouldn’t approve any further permits for him.

What had changed in 2007 was that Mr. Dorr was engaged by the Osceola County Taxpayers Association (OCTA) to provide consulting services which included investigating government expenditures, writing and distributing leaflets, and writing letters to the editor. In particular, the OCTA was concerned with the expenditures of the public safety commission and the county attorney’s office. They felt the size of the expenditures were out of line for a county of the size of Osceola and one of the agencies they were concerned about was the Sheriff’s Office.

Judge Bennett said, in his opinion, that:

Giving Sheriff Weber more deference than is due his elected status, the court finds that Sheriff Weber denied Paul’s application for a concealed weapons permit not because of the content of his First Amendment activity but because it was effective and agitated many members of the local community. Had Paul passed out flyers at 2:00 a.m. in a public park where no one was there to receive them, used a bullhorn deep in the woods where no one could hear him advocate his sometimes unorthodox views, or written letters to the editor in the Washington Post where few, if any, residents of Osceola County would read them, then Sheriff Weber would have granted Paul the permit. Paul was denied a permit precisely because Sheriff Weber believed that his free speech rights offended the majority of voters in Osceola County.

Because of this, the court “having found Paul (Dorr) proved a claim of First Amendment retaliation, will order Sheriff Weber to reconsider, and approve, Paul’s application for a concealed weapons permit.” Mr. Dorr’s son Alexander was also a party to the suit but is only 20 years old. Given Alexander’s age, the court found Sheriff Weber was within his discretion to deny him a permit.

In my opinion, here is where it gets really interesting. Districts Courts have substantial leeway to order remedial training to ensure that such violations don’t take place again.

Sheriff Weber’s dramatic and stunning failure to appreciate, and to protect and defend, Paul’s basic First Amendment rights, compels remedial relief.

The court provides Sheriff Weber with the following guidelines concerning the class
that he must complete. First, the class must provide college level instruction on the United States Constitution, including—at least in part—a discussion of the First Amendment. The class may be taken online. Second, Sheriff Weber must obtain approval from the court before participating in the class. Approval must be obtained by filing, with the Clerk of Court, a motion for approval of the proposed class, which must contain a description of the class and contact information for the court to further inquire, if necessary, into the substance of the class. Third, upon completion of the class, Sheriff Weber must file an affidavit with the Clerk of Court stating that he has successfully completed the class. Sheriff Weber shall attach his transcript or other proof of completion to the affidavit—Sheriff Weber must obtain a passing grade or obtain an otherwise satisfactory assessment of his participation in the class.

According to the Sioux City Journal,

Dorr said Wednesday that he was pleased “justice is served. I get my permit back and the sheriff is being sent back to school. The harm done by Sheriff Weber against the 6th and 9th commandments has been made right.”

I have posted the entire opinion in Scribd and it makes for interesting reading.

Dorr Et Al v. Weber Opinion


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