Reynolds blames education system following shooting outside East High School in Des Moines
Update 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 16
In a statement, Iowa House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, criticized Gov. Reynolds' response, calling her comments "reprehensible," and said “Instead of using our Iowa values to bring us together, Reynolds is using this tragedy to vilify teachers and drive Iowans apart.”
Update 1:58 p.m. Wednesday, March 16
Gov. Kim Reynolds blamed schools when asked Wednesday about calls for stricter gun laws following a recent shooting outside of East High School in Des Moines.
Reynolds says the six people arrested in connection with the shooting and the three victims were all between 14 and 18 years old. She says five of them weren’t enrolled in school, and four were, but they weren’t in class. Reynolds says it’s heartbreaking that 15-year-old José David Lopez was killed, but she says all the people involved should have been in school.
“I think the tragedy is our educational system is letting these kids down. They should have been in school. We should be figuring out resources to help them stay there, and to help them get an education and a life where they can take care of themselves and their family.”
Reynolds says she believes the guns used in the shooting weren’t obtained legally.
Democratic lawmakers called for stricter gun laws at a news conference Tuesday. Last year, Reynolds signed a bill into law that allows Iowans to buy and carry a handgun without a permit.
Gun safety advocates said Iowa schools need to focus on how to keep students safe from gun violence after 15-year-old José David Lopez was shot and killed on East High School’s campus in Des Moines last Monday.
All of those charged with his murder and the attempted murder of two other students are between the ages of 14 and 17. At a press conference at East Side Public Library, gun safety advocates said there needs to be more “common sense” laws around who can get a gun in Iowa.
Democratic state Rep. Ruth Ann Gaines taught at East High for 40 years as a drama school teacher. (The school has plans to name the auditorium after her.) She was sitting in the Democratic caucus Monday afternoon when she received the news. She said she called the principal right after the shooting.
"Her first statement was take the guns out of the hands of our babies. In fact, she said, 'My babies.' And I think that's the message of this morning, more than any other message. Take the guns out of the hands of my babies," she said.
Rev. Dr. Frantz Whitfield, president of the Iowa Chapter National Action Network and an East High alum, took classes under Gaines' tutelage when he was a student from 1996 to 1999.
"I could not sit back and be silent about the school that I love so much," he said.
Whitefield said he helped organize the press conference because he felt Iowa needed laws to ensure more "sensible ownership" of guns.
Des Moines Police have reported more than 40 shooting incidents in the city, and 18 people have been shot so far in 2022. Although the number of deaths has decreased slightly, the number of shootings remain "unsettling," according to Sgt. Paul Parizek. He said the number of people hit by gunfire has nearly doubled from 2020 to 2021.
Sierra Pilate, a senior at East High, said the schools need to offer more training opportunities for staff to help students rather than just relying on school resource officers or police.
"We as students should be able to go to our teachers and our higher ups, principals, anything, or people in our community to know that we are safe. But as of right now, most students do not feel that way," Pilate said.
Democratic state lawmakers Sen. Claire Celsi and Rep. Marti Anderson said they are planning to or have already introduced bills intended to keep students safer from gun violence when the legislature reconvenes in 2023.
"I would like to have some common sense gun safety legislation ready to go," Celsi said. She listed some including a universal background check requirement and a red flag law. "And then I really think we need some youth safety education funding for schools and community groups."
Celsi said more funding could be used to acknowledge some of Pilate's points, like increasing student resources and language access (which many Latino families have expressed their concerns about).
"We need to start being able to do that more and being able to trust the adults around us, even in dark situations," 18-year-old Pilate said. She plans on attending Grand View University and studying music education.
Last year, the Iowa Legislature approved a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would add pro-gun rights language. It will be on the ballot this November.