Iowa House Republicans voted on Wednesday to make it easier to bring guns on the campuses of Iowa schools, community colleges, and universities and to require public schools to implement K-12 gun safety curriculum that was developed by the National Rifle Association (NRA).
HF 654 passed 62-37, with only two of 64 Republicans voting against the proposal, which was criticized by gun safety advocates and Democrats alike.
“Every single day across this country I see people die,” said Rep. Austin Baeth (D-Des Moines), speaking against the bill. “This particular bill is most concerning to me because it brings guns even closer to our children. It brings them to the parking lots of our schools … where every day parents drop their kids praying to God that their kids survive the day without a mass shooting.”
Baeth, a medical doctor, cited recent mass shootings in Tennessee and Kentucky during his speech opposing the bill and called gun violence a public health crisis.
“We should be passing legislation for gun safety rather than promoting an arms race against each other,” he said.
HF 654 allows people who have valid concealed carry permits to keep guns on them on school property, but outside the school building itself, as long as the firearms are not visible in school parking lots or driveways when picking up or dropping off a child at school. The bill also allows schools to authorize “a person” to carry, transport, or possess a firearm or ammunition in a school vehicle.
Additionally, if the bill becomes law, no Iowa regent university or community college would be able to implement a policy that bars people from bringing dangerous weapons on campus if those weapons are stored in a locked vehicle and out of plain sight.
The NRA- and Iowa Firearm Coalition-endorsed bill also prohibits “all state and local governmental entities” from restricting an employee’s right to keep weapons and ammunition in their vehicles.
An amendment to the bill further makes age-appropriate gun safety curriculum developed by the NRA required learning in grades K-12. School districts would have until July 1, 2024, to develop and implement that curriculum.
HF 654 also allows people to carry loaded guns on snowmobiles and leaves it up to the discretion of individual Iowa casinos on whether or not they want to prohibit firearms in those facilities.
Lastly, it prevents insurance companies from “denying property or casualty insurance to a school based solely on the presence of a person who lawfully goes armed with, carries, or transports a firearm” on the grounds of a college or school.
The original version of the bill, before it was amended, also forced private businesses to allow employees to keep guns and ammunition in their vehicles.
Republican Reps. Chad Ingels of Randalia and Gary Mohr of Bettendorf joined all 35 House Democrats in opposition.
During the debate, House Democrats introduced various amendments to tone the bill down and shared either personal stories or secondary stories about people whose lives were affected by gun violence.
Rep. J.D. Scholten (D-Sioux City) got choked up on the floor while talking about Jenna Cooper, a friend of his who was killed 19 years ago. Cooper was a college soccer player at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who died after being shot in the throat at an off-campus party.
“The cops referred to her death as ‘being in the wrong place at the wrong time,’” Scholten said. “So a bill like this, that allows more guns on state university properties, what could go wrong?”
“Lastly, I have to give credit where credit is due. This bill, the level of not giving shit is impressive,” Scholten added.
Rep. Steve Holt (R-Denison) was the floor manager for HF 654. Holt championed the legislation as a way to protect “freedom.” He also countered Democrats’ argument that schools should be gun-free zones by saying he feels unsafe in gun-free zones and he is more comfortable being surrounded by armed law-abiding citizens.
“None of the school shootings that I’m aware of that have taken place involved a parent with a permit to carry or an educator with a permit to carry going into the school to drop off their loved ones and just suddenly deciding to commit violence,” Holt said.
“All of these things are premeditated and were because of mental illness and regardless of the laws that are on the books because it’s against the law to commit murder, it’s against that law to do these things and yet they were done anyway.”
The bill is now eligible for debate in the Iowa Senate. If that chamber passes it, it goes to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ desk, and if she signs it becomes law.
by Ty Rushing
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