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House Republicans pass a bill to make it easier to arm teachers in Iowa schools

The bill passed in the Iowa House requires school staff who are permitted to carry guns to go through regular training on providing emergency medicine, communicating with law enforcement, and responding to the scene of a shooter.
Grant Gerlock
The bill passed in the Iowa House requires school staff who are permitted to carry guns to go through regular training on providing emergency medicine, communicating with law enforcement, and responding to the scene of a shooter.

It would be easier for school districts to allow teachers and other school employees to carry guns under a bill passed in the Republican-controlled Iowa House.

GOP supporters of the bill (HF 2586) believe arming teachers would prepare schools to respond more quickly in the case of a school shooting, such as the attack that killed a sixth grader and principal at Perry High School in January. But Democrats say the legislature is not getting to the root of the issue of school safety and that lawmakers should invest more in mental health services and violence prevention programs.

Schools can already choose to arm teachers under current law, and a handful have tried but they ran into an insurance roadblock.

In November 2022, Spirit Lake schools decided to choose 10 non-teaching staff members who would carry handguns on the school campus and go through training with law enforcement. But the program was repealed last summer after the district was told by its insurer that it would be dropped from coverage if it followed through with the plan.

Republican Rep. John Wills, who represents Spirit Lake, said schools should not have to rely solely on law enforcement to respond to a shooting. The first few minutes of a shooting, he said, are when the most lives are lost.

“Spirit Lake determined that even though they have [a school resource officer] that the response time, the wait, was just too long,” Wills said. “That's why they're so emphatic that we do a safety plan, that we do something, that we stop these shooters as fast as we can.”

House Republicans said the bill (HF 2586) passed Wednesday night reduces the insurance risk posed by arming teachers. It creates a professional permit and training standards for school employees who carry firearms. It also protects permit-holders and their school districts from criminal and civil liability “for all damages incurred pursuant to the application of reasonable force at the place of employment.”

House Majority Leader Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, said that without this measure insurance companies hold a “de facto veto” over districts’ decisions to arm teachers. He said he had spoken with at least one insurer who would be willing to offer coverage to schools in Iowa under the terms in the bill.

Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, said the plan may put insurers and school districts at ease but it leaves students and families to bear the risk of school violence.

“The risk is losing an armed teacher to law enforcement who will struggle to identify the good guy with a gun versus the bad guy with a gun. The risk is accidentally leaving the weapon in the restroom, locker room, unlocked desk drawer and a young, curious student finding it," Wessel-Kroeschell said. "This bill reduces the risk for insurance and raises the risk to students and their families. If they are hurt or killed in crossfire, no one will be held accountable.”

Democrats said lawmakers should be discussing gun control, not putting guns in schools. Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, D-Des Moines, said teaching is already stressful and demanding. He said lawmakers should be careful about adding on top of that the responsibility of carrying a gun in school.

“Where’s the counselors that we're going to put into schools to help counsel the teachers because we're going to talk about giving them guns, but you know teachers are human just like police officers are human,” Abdul-Samad said. “This is cosmetic because we're not funding and giving individuals who we’re talking about arming the necessary tools to even deal with themselves.”

The bill does require annual background checks for teachers who are permitted to carry guns and mandates that they go through regular training on how to provide emergency medical care, how to communicate with law enforcement, and how to respond to a scene with an active shooter.

“This bill sets a very high standard,” Thompson said. “Because we're talking about the safety of our children, the bar must be high. We recognize that this responsibility must be taken very seriously. The strict training regimen outlined in this bill ensures that the employees who acquire this permit are equipped with the skills and the proficiency to act appropriately in the event of an emergency.”

Another section of the bill requires districts with more than 8,000 students to have at least one school resource officer or a private security officer guarding any building that enrolls high school students, although it includes a clause that allows school boards to opt-out of the requirement.

It also creates a grant program to help districts pay for security officers.

The bill passed on a vote of 61-34 with only GOP members of the House voting in favor.

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa