Iowa House passes GOP bill allowing guns in vehicles on school grounds

By: - April 12, 2023 7:28 pm

Legislation advanced by House Republicans would allow guns to be locked in cars on school property. (Photo illustration via Canva)

As Democrats shared emotional stories of Iowans hurt and killed due to gun violence, Republican House lawmakers passed legislation allowing people to have guns in locked vehicles while on school and college properties.

House File 654 also prohibits insurance companies from refusing to insure Iowa schools that have armed staff on school grounds. An adopted amendment stripped the earlier language requiring private employers also allow firearms in locked vehicles on company grounds. It passed on a vote of 62-37.

Advocates for the bill said the measure is not a way to allow guns in schools, but a way to allow parents who carry a gun in their car to pick up and drop off their children at schools. But Democrats said this change will put Iowa children at greater risk.

The discussion comes weeks after the school shooting of three children and three adults at a Christian school in Nashville, and days after a Louisville, Kentucky mass shooting at a bank that killed five and left three injured.

Some incidents have happened closer to home. Three mass shootings occurred in in Iowa 2022: A 16-year-old died in a shooting outside East High School in Des Moines in March of that year. A gunman shot and killed two Iowa State students, then himself, outside of Cornerstone Church in Ames in June, and four people died in a shooting at Maquoketa Caves State Park in July.

Rep. Lindsay James, D-Dubuque, said this bill makes it easier to carry dangerous weapons on school grounds, but does not address the “gun violence epidemic” facing Iowa. She cited data from Everytown for Gun Safety report on Centers for Disease Control studies that found guns are the second-leading cause of death for Iowa youth.

Rep. Sue Cahill, D-Marshalltown, said it was an “emotional” bill for many Democrats, who said allowing guns on school property in vehicles would put children at greater risk. She criticized Republicans for passing restrictions on schools’ teaching about issues like AIDS or HPV to prevent deaths while lowering limits on gun access around school properties.

Cahill also criticized Republicans making concessions in the amendment for businesses and casinos to make their own rules and policies on guns in vehicles, while not allowing schools to do the same.

“This bill put guns closer to our kids, to our teachers, to our school staff and to our schools. ” Cahill said. “How can we let this happen? We need to support gun safety. This amended bill protects businesses, but it doesn’t protect children.”

After several Democrats raised their voices, slammed microphones down or swore while speaking in opposition to the bill, the House speaker called for lawmakers to maintain decorum. The Tennessee House expelled two members over a gun protest for violating decorum rules earlier in April, though both were quickly reappointed.

Rep. Rick Olson, D-Des Moines, questioned whether this bill would allow guns like an AR-15 — a semiautomatic rifle used in several mass shootings — onto school grounds in a vehicle. Olson argued the bill allowing “dangerous weapons,” which include rifles, would allow AR-15s to be carried on school and college properties.

Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, pointed the lawmakers to the state’s existing restrictions on carrying and possessing an “offensive weapon,” such a machine gun. He also disagreed with the overall arguments linking the bill with school shootings.

“None of the shootings referred to during debate, and none of the school shootings that I’m aware of that have taken place, involve a parent with a permit to carry or an educator with a permit to carry going up to a school to drop off their loved ones and just suddenly deciding to commit violence,” Holt said. “All of these things are premeditated.”

The people having guns in their vehicles on school grounds are people who have permits to carry, Holt said, and are law-abiding citizens. He said that there is a “fundamental disagreement here” on the presence of guns in these situations. He said he personally feels more vulnerable in a gun-free zone, because a mentally ill person who does not care about the law could turn that area into a “shooting gallery.”

“I am personally way more comfortable with the idea of law-abiding citizens being allowed to carry a firearm,” Holt said. “Because like I said, the bad guys don’t care what the law says, they will kill indiscriminately. And one armed citizen with a proficiency in firearms can eliminate the threat.”

The bill is available for consideration next in the Senate, where its companion, Senate File 543, has already passed through the committee process.

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. They have experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald.