Iowa Senate passes bill to arm school staff, give legal immunity in shootings

Sen. Molly Donahue speaks during Wednesday's debate over a bill to arm Iowa teachers and staff.

By Ty Rushing

April 11, 2024

Sen. Molly Donahue, a teacher, has more than a few ideas on how to make schools safer without arming teachers or other school staff. She shared them during Wednesday’s Iowa Senate debate on a bill to bring more guns into schools.

“We could be investing far more funding in mental health resources to enhance access to mental health professionals to identify the supports for students who may pose a risk to themselves or others,” said the Democrat from Cedar Rapids.

Donahue also suggested more comprehensive training on emergency procedures for staff, promoting positive school climates through social-emotional learning, funding threat assessment teams, increasing parental involvement, and more.

She also suggested taking action on access to firearms.

“We could also be looking at universal background checks, we could be looking at gun show loopholes, red flag laws, safe storage laws—these are things that would be proactive to prevent such horrific things happening in our schools today,” Donahue said.

None of Donahue’s suggestions were taken up as the Iowa Senate advanced HF 2586 in a 30-14 vote that nearly fell along party lines. Sen. Charlie McClintock, a former police officer, joined Democrats in opposition.

HF 2586 allows school districts, private schools, and colleges to arm permitted 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.

The identities of armed staff members will be confidential and shielded from public record requests.

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.”

That provision allows armed staff members legal protection if they were to accidentally shoot and/or kill a student or teacher, or intentionally harm a would-be-school shooter.

Iowa already has the legal mechanisms in place for school districts to decide whether or not to arm staff, but the issue has been insurers being adverse to covering districts with such a policy in place. This legislation is intended to circumvent that.

Two Northwest Iowa school districts—Cherokee and Spirit Lake—implemented their own plans to arm teachers, but the measures were dropped after insurance providers declined to continue to insure the districts because of the policy.

“The bill attempts to address this problem by granting ‘qualified immunity’ to schools and their armed guards, but this does nothing to reduce the risk associated,” said Sen. Herman Quirmbach (D-Ames). “All it does is shift the risk away from the schools”

Sen. Jason Schultz (R-Schleswig) suggested “woke corporate moves” as one possible reason insurance companies do not want to cover school districts where teachers and other staff members are carrying guns.

Schultz also defended the necessity of the legislation. He cited the “good guy with a gun” archetype popularized by the National Rifle Association and other gun groups, which ignores the low success rate of armed victims and bystanders during crimes.

“Every single one of us here wants a lower body count,” Schultz said, referring to school shootings. “Well, how we do it is the difference. A good guy with a gun is going to stop a bad guy with a gun. Not every single time, but you don’t have a chance if the good guy doesn’t have a gun.”

The Iowa House passed HF 2586 in February, but the Senate passed the bill with an amendment that removes funding for school resource officers or armed security. The bill previously established a grant program to allow Iowa’s 11 largest districts to recoup up to $50,000 to pay for those costs.

Because of the Senate amendment, the bill returns to the Iowa House for consideration.

  • 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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