ISU president didn't follow university policy on transporting firearms

Since late September, Iowa State University President Steven Leath has repeatedly asserted that his use of ISU’s two airplanes was consistent with university policies.

Multiple audits and perhaps a criminal investigation will shed light on whether Leath violated ISU policy (and state law) on personal use of university property. Questionable flights include several unexplained trips to the city where the Mayo Clinic is located, stops at a New York airport to pick up and drop off Leath’s relatives, a trip to Kansas City after ISU had been eliminated from the Big 12 basketball tournament, and numerous visits to the town where Leath owns a home. On one of those trips, ISU’s plane was on the ground in North Carolina for only 37 minutes before returning to Ames.

Whatever conclusion investigators reach regarding Leath’s use of the airplanes, one fact is clear: the president has not complied with university policy on transporting weapons when using ISU’s Flight Service for various hunting trips.

Iowa Code does not address carrying weapons on state university property or vehicles. But ISU has a policy on Firearms and Other Weapons, which states, “The unauthorized transportation, use, or storage of any firearms, weapons and/or explosives is prohibited. In extenuating circumstances, a request for authorization for transporting firearms, weapons and/or explosives must be submitted in writing and approved by the office of risk management or department of public safety.”

The same policy defines weapons as “any pistol, revolver, shotgun, machine gun, rifle or other firearm, BB or pellet gun, Taser or stun gun, bomb, grenade, mine or other explosive or incendiary device, ammunition, archery equipment, dagger, stiletto, switchblade knife, or knife having a blade exceeding five inches in length.”

Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press in early October,

Leath, an avid hunter, has also taken professional archer John Dudley on four donor-funded trips that have mixed university business with hunting. Dudley, who hosts the “Nock On” hunting television show but has no apparent ties to Iowa State, has flown for free on the plane. […]

The Leaths and Dudley made a two-day trip to Raleigh, North Carolina, in March and stopped in Jefferson on their way back to Ames. The next week, the university plane returned to Jefferson to pick up Leath to take him to Pittsburgh.

Ames real estate agent Dean Hunziker recalled flying on the plane and hunting on trips to Texas and Indiana with Leath as part of talks with investor Steve Hageman to build private university housing — a proposal that hasn’t panned out.

“He had a great big, hunting lodge” in Texas where a group that included Dudley and all three men’s wives visited last year, Hunziker recalled. “We did shoot some ducks.”

Under ISU’s policy, Leath and other passengers joining the hunting trip should have submitted requests to bring firearms or bowhunting equipment onto the Beechcraft King Air, the larger of the university’s two airplanes. Similarly, Leath should have sought permission from ISU’s Office of Risk Management if he ever transported guns or ammunition on the smaller Cirrus SR22, which he periodically piloted. (Publicly available information does not indicate whether Leath used the Cirrus to travel to hunting destinations or brought weapons with him when he flew that plane to or from his North Carolina home.)

Using Iowa’s open records law, I asked ISU for the following documents:

1. Requests from President Leath for authorization to transport firearms or archery equipment on university aircraft;

2. Requests from other passengers who flew on ISU’s Beechcraft King Air or Cirrus SR22 for authorization to transport firearms or archery equipment on university aircraft;

3. Documents from the ISU Office of Risk Management approving or denying any requests for authorization to transport firearms or archery equipment on university aircraft;

4. Any document outlining rules for transporting firearms or archery equipment on ISU aircraft–for instance, mandating that firearms be unloaded, with the bolt removed, limiting how much ammunition can be transported, or requiring that ammunition be packed separately and stored in a certain area of the plane;

5. Any waivers ISU may have asked people to sign when bringing firearms or archery equipment onto a university airplane;

6. Any document or policy statement that explains who is responsible for inspecting baggage to confirm firearms taken aboard university aircraft are unloaded, and ammunition is packed safely and separately.

After looking into the matter, the university’s public records officer replied (at 4:56 pm on the Friday before election day), “We have no records responsive to this request.”

ISU communications staff have ignored my follow-up questions about informal procedures, such as inspections by professional pilots, that may have been used when Leath and other passengers brought weapons onto the King Air en route to a hunting destination. According to employees at several private charter companies, customers who want to bring hunting gear on a small plane need not sign any special form or waiver. However, the captain has the prerogative to ensure that hunting rifles are unloaded and any ammunition is packed separately.

Reached by phone last week, Hunziker said he did not recall whether anyone checked to see how hunting rifles or ammunition were packed when he traveled on ISU’s King Air.

Corporate CEOs don’t need anyone’s permission to bring personal property onto a company airplane. But ISU policies apply to “a broad range of the university community” and are not discretionary. Leath is president of a public institution and subject to its rules.

UPDATE: Alex Hanson reported for the Iowa State Daily on November 16,

Iowa State has asked the Board of Regents to expand its internal audit of President Steven Leath’s use of university-owned aircraft, including whether Leath violated the university’s firearms and weapons policy, a school spokesperson said Wednesday. […]

The Daily asked The Office of the President if Leath transported any weapons, including firearms for hunting, and if so, did Leath follow the correct ISU policy to get permission to do so. Landolt said the school would not comment until the audit findings are reported, because it may “jeopardize the integrity of the audit.” […]

Landolt said the audit includes not just Leath, but all users of university-owned aircraft.

I look forward to reading the auditor’s report. My understanding from acquaintances who travel for hunting is that hunters bring along their own gear. It would be unusual to rent rifles or bowhunting equipment at the destination. I would be shocked if a professional like John Dudley didn’t bring his own equipment when traveling with Leath.

Maintenance Notice - As of November 14, 2023 we are still seeing issues with replying to comments...Thanks for your patience, this will be restored.