Getting Your Gun Rights Restored – How the Process Works in Iowa

Getting Your Gun Rights Restored - How the Process Works in Iowa

“It was 35 years ago – I made a stupid decision when I was 18 – but I’ve been a model citizen since then. I’ve been married for 30 years, have a business, children and grandchildren, serve in my church and haven’t had so much as a speeding ticket since then. How do I get my gun rights back?”

We get asked this all the time here at the Iowa Gun Owners office.

Having had an IGO member recently go through the process and get his gun rights restored, we thought it may be helpful to describe the process for you, in case you’re in a similar boat.

Of course, this process is only a possibility for those who have non-violent felony convictions. If your conviction is of a violent nature, regardless of how long ago, your application will not be considered.

That said, here’s how the process works in Iowa.

First, the process doesn’t move quickly. In fact, the Governor’s office won’t usually even consider applications to have firearm rights restored unless 5 years have elapsed since your sentence has ended.

We get some calls from younger Iowans who just finished serving time in jail or who just finished their probation who want to know how to begin the process – and we have to tell them that they are going to need to wait for 5 years.

Secondly, understand that the office of the Governor doesn’t consider cases unless the crime occurred inside the state of Iowa.

Similarly, while the Governor’s office will consider applications to restore voting rights and the right to hold public office resulting from convictions stemming from federal court – your application to restore gun rights will not be heard if the conviction stems from federal court.

Third, you’ll need more than just your word that you’re a law abiding citizen to get your gun rights restored.

You’ll need letters of reference from the following parties:

1. Prosecuting attorney who handled your case;

2. Sentencing judge who handled your case;

3. County sheriff in the county where you currently reside;

4. Minister (if applicable);

5. Present or former employers;

6. Any other reputable persons in the community who can attest to your character.

If any of these individuals are beyond your reach due to death, retirement, or relocation, you’ll need a letter to explain that in your application.

Fourth, while there isn’t a cost associated with filing for executive clemency, you’ll have to have paid all court costs, fines, fees, and any assigned restitution before making your application, and you’ll have to provide documentation proving that you’ve satisfied those obligations.

Fifth, you’ll need to include a current criminal history record with your application.

Sixth, you’ll need to include a current credit check with your application.

Seventh, once you completed the entire application you’ll have to be patient again as the process usually takes a solid 2-years from the date you submit your application.

Once you’ve submitted you application, as long as you’re not immediately disqualified for one for the factors listed above, an intense background check will ensue.

The Iowa Parole Board will first review the application. If they think the application warrants further investigation, the Department of Criminal Investigation (DCI) will begin an investigation.

Every one of the individuals who signed your reference letters in step 3 above will be contacted by the DCI and they’ll likely meet with them in person to ask them more about you and their interaction with you.

If they concur that your case meets their guidelines, they’ll kick it back to the Governor’s staff.

The Governor’s staff will then arrange for a phone interview to ask you very detailed questions about your crime, why you did it, what factors have changed in your life that ensure that you don’t do that criminal activity again, and a host of other personal questions.

If the Governor’s staff concurs with the Iowa Parole Board and the DCI, they’ll forward the application to the Governor himself who will set up a time to interview you personally.

Be sure, during this meeting, to bring your spouse along if applicable so that the Governor can get a sense of how balanced you are and can ask specific questions of your spouse.

After interviewing you personally, assuming that no red flags went up, you’ll usually receive notification right then and there of the Governor’s clemency and your gun rights will be restored to you.

The Governor’s staff will interface with the proper agencies to have your status changed in the NCIC system so that you’ll be able to purchase firearms and obtain permits once again.

Understand that there are four types of clemency that can be sought from the Governor’s office: restoration of your voting rights and the right to hold public office, restoration of your firearm rights, a full pardon (which covers your gun rights as well), and a commutation of sentence.

The process laid out above only deals with the application to have your firearms rights restored

Again, you must wait 5 years after you’ve served your time or ended your probation before your application will be considered.

Once you’ve filed your application, prepare for another 2 year wait for all of the background checks to be completed and for all of the agencies listed above to give their reports to the Governor’s office.

That being said, we know of gun owners who have successfully navigated these waters and who, today, are enjoying their right to keep and bear arms after having made bad decisions in their youth.

If you want to get started on this process you may download the application here.

The IGO member who went through this process most recently said that while it was a slow and deliberate process, the Governor’s staff was very professional and helpful throughout the process once he submitted all of his reference letters.

If you’re not yet at the 5 year window, you can begin to complete the application and line up your references for the appropriate time.

If you have more questions, feel free to contact us.

For Freedom,

Aaron Dorr
Executive Director

P.S. We get many calls and emails on how convicted felons can have their gun rights restored. While convictions involving violence will never be vacated, there is a process for those convicted of non-violent felonies to have their gun rights restored.

In the email above we describe this process, having learned much of this from an IGO member who recently went through this process.

If you have further questions after having read this email, please feel free to contact us.


  1. After 19 years of my non-violent conviction, I am considering restoring my gun rights. My conviction happened in Polk County, but I now live in Audubon County. I know my attorney who handled my case still has my file. I have talked to my attorney over the years to restore my gun rights, but he said, is it really worth it now. I feel like it is.

    Wondering what you meant in your P.S. “there is a process for those convicted of non-violent felonies to have their gun rights restored.” Is there a different process?


    1. The P.S. refers to the process outlined in the article.


  2. Can I get my gun rights restored for a simple domestic that happened 11 years ago in Iowa


    1. Recommend you follow the guidelines in this article.


  3. Hello. I was convicted of a felony back in 2004 while living in Iowa. I had received probation which I completed along with paying all restitution. I received a letter stating my rights were restored soon after. I’m not able to locate the letter I received nor found a way to obtain a copy of the letter. I recently applied to purchase a firearm here in Az , but was denied. Please help. Thank you.
    Clifford P Ackerman
    [email protected]


    1. Clifford, unfortunately, we are not in a position to offer legal counsel on this. Recommend talking to a lawyer.


  4. I appreciate the time & effort spent on the preparation of this thorough article. Thank you.
    Given your expertise, how likely is it that my application will be denied due to the fact I have had (non-related) criminal charges since the
    original inciident (1997 conviction serious misdemeanor for illegal possession of firearms)?


    1. Kelly, apologies for the very late reply, we are not able to give a sound opinion on that matter. Best to consult legal counsel.


  5. I would like more info on getting help with the process. I was arrested for receiving stolen property in excess of $20 in 1976, a felony in Iowa at time. I can’t find any record of it electronically. I live in Illinois and was a student at Uof I during this period. Finding the Judge and the attorney may be impossible.


    1. Norman, we are not able to give you legal counsel on this. Recommend you speak with a lawyer if you are unable to follow the process outlined in this article.


  6. Hello,
    Would you happen to have a list of attorneys that would work towards getting a person’s gun rights reinstated?
    Thanks for your time,
    Dennis Quinn


    1. Apologies for the late reply, unfortunately we do not.


  7. I would like to discuss my situation with someone knowledgable on this please .


    1. James, we are not able to offer any legal counsel. We recommend following the guidelines listed in this article.


  8. I am a deputy with a Sheriff’s department in Iowa and a friend inquired with me about if he could get his gun rights back after a domestic conviction over 20 years ago. I told him I did not think so but would research it. he is a prominent business owner now and has been for many of years. he had his voting rights restored but I was not sure if its even possible for his gun rights. any input would be appreciated. Thank you


    1. Apologies for the delay in responding. This article is what we have for guidelines. Our recommendation is to follow the instructions herein.


  9. For all of you above and in the future wanting help from Aaron, I am going thru the process as we speak. I sent in my application 2 days after my 5 years was up on 8/16/19. I still have not heard a word back yet which honestly i feel like this is a good sign (Today is 1/10/20). To me this application process is more about “how bad do you want it” rather than anything else. If you’re looking for a lawyer to “do it for you” it will not happen. It’s easy to get overwhelmed but with some work and persistence you can absolutely get it done. I started by creating a letter outlining the details of my crime, how the system rehabilitated me and how I plan to never revisit that lifestyle. I contacted my lawyer and he was able to give me the judge’s name and prosecuting atty’s name. I then copied and pasted names and addresses to these letters and sent them out. I called the county sheriff and sent him a letter. The prosecuting atty was the toughest. I left countless voicemails at his office and sent countless letters. Finally what worked was sending a letter along with the copies of the letters from the judge, sheriff and character witnesses to his home address (prob crazy of me huh). Took probably 2 years to get a letter from him but I finally got it. Do you know a firefighter or police officer? Send them a letter… Boss…friend… whoever.. Go online and print off your credit report, you can request a copy of your criminal history report online as well both for a small fee. Clerk of court should have payment history… I hole punched everything and made a binder with all sections of the application tabbed and laid out for quick reference. This thing was huge, Cost me about $8.00 to send to Des Moines. All in all, to me is just about how bad do you want it. How hard are you willing to work to get your guns back. Leave no stone unturned, Complete the application and go thru it front to back. then do it again, make sure you have EVERYTHING covered. If you think its to hard or want someone else to do it for you then all in all you probably don’t deserve to get your rights back. I did the crime, I made the mistake(s), it’s up to me to right my wrongs. I took my rights for granted…I got my voting rights back after year 3 and am ecstatic to vote in the upcoming election. Guilty or not guilty, no matter the circumstances, if you’re here you were convicted or know someone who was. Get past that and move forward with this application process. Don’t give up. Start knocking things off the list one at a time and it will all come together.


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