“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.
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.