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Gun rights and gun safety lessons advance in Iowa House

Grant Gerlock
IPR file
Lawmakers have advanced bills that would expand a gun owners' right to have a gun in their vehicle, and a proposal to add gun safety instruction to K-12 schools in Iowa.

A panel of lawmakers in the Iowa House is advancing a bill that would expand gun owners’ rights to keep a firearm with them in their car when they go to work, over concerns raised by private employers.

Meanwhile, another bill moving forward in the House would direct K-12 schools to add lessons on gun safety as a way to try to reduce the number firearm-related deaths among Iowa children.

Right to carry in your car

Gun owners could store their guns in their car while they are at work under a bill (HSB 173) passed by a House subcommittee Tuesday.

The bill also says that anyone who can legally own a gun can have it in their car when they go to a corrections facility, a school, a community college or a public university. The gun would have to be put away and out of sight and, if the person is gone from the car, it must be locked.

Brad Hartkopf, a lobbyist for the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, objected to the bill because he said it would violate private companies’ property rights to decide where firearms are allowed on site, whether it is in the building or in the parking lot.

If there is a conflict with an employee who has a loaded gun in their car, Hartkopf said, the safety of everyone who works with them could be at risk.

“Oftentimes you can have a situation where an employer has to discharge an employee for whatever reason,” Hartkopf said. “Obviously that can be a very intense and emotional situation. Imagine what can happen in that situation if somebody has access to a weapon in their vehicle immediately.”

Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, said the property rights of an employer should not outweigh an employee's privacy or their Second Amendment rights.

“We’re talking about a law abiding citizen who wants to have a firearm locked in their vehicle for their protection,” Holt said. “And when they leave work maybe they don’t get to go straight home. Maybe they also have to go get groceries. We also have the rights of the law abiding citizen who owns that vehicle to think about as well.”

Another part of the bill would allow gun owners to carry loaded weapons while driving. Current law requires a gun to be unloaded and put away while on the road. It would also repeal restrictions on riding a snowmobile or ATV with a loaded gun.

The bill was passed on to the full House Public Safety Committee.

Gun safety at school

A bill passed by another House subcommittee (HF 73) would direct K-12 schools to teach students about gun safety.

Under the original bill, schools would be encouraged to offer lessons for students in kindergarten through fifth grade based on a program created by the National Rifle Association featuring a cartoon character, Eddie Eagle.

From grades 6-12, students would be required to take the NRA’s hunter education course.

Similar proposals requiring schools to use NRA gun safety materials have come up in states including Kansas and Arizona.

A proposed amendment would allow schools to choose their own curriculum, such as the BeSmart program from the group Everytown for Gun Safety.

Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, D-Des Moines, said he understands people may have misgivings about using an NRA education program in schools, but he believes the animation appeals to children.

“I personally like Eddie Eagle,” said Abdul-Samad, who is co-sponsoring the bill with Rep. Skyler Wheeler, R-Hull. “I don’t know how you measure success, but if you can get a third, fourth and fifth grader look at you and say ‘No, you don’t pick it up, you leave it there,’ because someone mentioned earlier - guns can be found anywhere.”

A study based on CDC data showed that, in 2020, gun injuries were the number one cause of death among children in the U.S.

Abdul-Samad also mentioned the death of Savannah Holmes, a 4-year-old girl from Ankeny who fatally shot herself with a gun left out by her father.

He said teaching students how to react when they see a gun could help prevent future accidents.

“We've found guns in parks. We’ve had children come over to my agency and turn in a gun that they found in a bag in the park. That’s a reality now,” he said. “Don’t get caught up on the messenger, get caught up on the message.”

Temple Hiatt, a volunteer with the gun control group Moms Demand Action, told the subcommittee she opposes the bill because gun safety should be the responsibility of gun owners, not children.

“You cannot educate the curiosity out of a child,” Hiatt said. ““The responsibility to prevent gun violence should not rest of the judgement of mere children, but instead must rest on the gun owner’s secure storage procedures.”

Abdul-Samad said he considers the proposal the beginning of a “comprehensive plan” to address gun violence at home, at school and in the community.

The bill passed out of subcommittee and is headed to the full House Education Committee.

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa