Iowa House passes bill to arm teachers, staff in school

Iowa Rep. Molly Buck (D-Ankney) speaks out against a bill that would make it easier for Iowa schools to arm staff.

By Ty Rushing

February 29, 2024

Rep. Molly Buck (D-Ankeny), who is also a teacher, summed up her thoughts on Iowa House Republicans’ bill to arm school staff as a way to deter school shootings.

“When I think about how my classroom is arranged, if I am carrying a gun and there’s a threat at the door, the thing that stands between me and that threat are 26 kids that I would take a bullet for,” Buck said. “But I could never live with myself if I put a bullet in one of them.”

Buck’s concerns and those of other Iowa House Democrats were dismissed as HF 2586—formerly HSB 675—passed in a party-line vote during a debate that went late into the evening on Monday in the Iowa House. 

The bill allows school districts, private schools, and colleges to arm staff. Armed staffers would undergo a one-time “in-person legal training, including training on qualified immunity, annual emergency medical training,” and annual communication training, all of which must be approved by the Iowa Department of Public Safety.

School staff issued a permit to carry by the Department of Public Safety and who are up-to-date on their training would also “be entitled to qualified immunity from criminal or civil liability for all damages incurred pursuant to the application of reasonable force at the place of employment.”

During the debate, Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell (D-Ames) noted why the qualified immunity provision is an issue.

“This bill reduces the risks for insurance companies and raises the risks for students and their families,” she said. “If a student is hurt or killed in crossfire under this bill, no one will be held accountable.” 

The bill also requires Iowa’s 11 largest school districts to have armed security or school resource officers (SROs) in their high school buildings. School boards would be able to opt out of this provision.

The state would create a grant program that would allow districts to recoup up to $50,000 to pay for SROs or security costs, but otherwise, no additional funding is provided in the bill. The grant program is estimated to cost about $15.1 million, according to a fiscal note from the Iowa Legislative Services Agency.

As she did during a subcommittee on the bill, Wessel-Kroeschell asked floor manager Rep. Phil Thompson (R-Boone) specific questions about the bill, including who owns the guns and where they will be stored.

Thompson again confirmed that staff could use their own firearms but it would strictly be up to the school districts to determine that policy. He also noted the guns would likely be concealed and it would be up to the district to determine what firearms can be used.

Wessel-Kroeschell then asked Thompson if he’d heard anything from the insurance companies on whether they would cover schools with an armed staff policy. Two Northwest Iowa school districts revoked armed staff policies due to insurance issues.

“We’ve heard from the school districts who are working with their insurance companies and believe that this does make other insurance companies interested in the Iowa market,” Thompson said.

Wessel-Kroeschell said she doesn’t think bringing guns into the building is an adequate solution.

“Teachers, administrators, and school board members have all said that more adults in school leads to less violence,” she said. “More adults addressing obstacles that our students face because current and former students are the shooters.

“If schools were fully funded, they could afford specialists to help students with homelessness, poverty, bullying, and more. The more adults with eyes on a student will identify suicide ideation, brewing fights, bullying, and students who have no friends and feel on the outs.”

Rep. Matt Windschitl (R-Missouri Valley) said rich people have private security and some politicians in Washington, DC, have guns to protect them, so why shouldn’t schools?

“Why would we not afford the same opportunity, on a voluntary basis, for people that are willing to go through the training, willing to take on this risk, willing to put their lives on the line for our children in an active-shooter situation,” he said.

“Why would we not give them the same opportunity and the same protection that all of those people have,” Windschitl continued. “People with bad intentions are going to do bad things. People with good intentions are there to stop them.”

The bill is now eligible for debate in the Iowa Senate. If the Senate passes it without amendment, it would go to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ desk and her signature would make it law. 

  • Ty Rushing

    Ty Rushing is the Chief Political Correspondent for Iowa Starting Line. He is a trail-blazing veteran Iowa journalist, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and co-founder and president of the Iowa Association of Black Journalists. Send tips or story ideas to [email protected] and find him on social media @Rushthewriter.

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