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Iowa House extends gun carry rights to school, college parking lots

The bill says it’s okay to have a gun in a car on school or university grounds as long as it’s locked and the weapon is out of sight when the person is away from it.
Grant Gerlock
IPR file
The bill says it’s okay to have a gun in a car on school or university grounds as long as it’s locked and the weapon is out of sight when the person is away from it.

A bill passed Wednesday in the Iowa House expands gun carry rights so that a legal gun owner would be allowed to keep their weapon in their car at a public university or community college, or while visiting a public school.

A gun owner with a permit to carry could keep a pistol or revolver in their car while dropping off or picking up a student from a K-12 school, for instance.

Republican supporters said the bill (HF 654) protects the Second Amendment rights of responsible gun owners, but Democrats said lawmakers should instead be looking at ways to prevent gun violence and make schools more secure in light of the recent attack at a Nashville school that left six people dead.

Under another provision in the bill, public universities and community colleges would be prohibited from passing rules that would prevent anyone from having a legal weapon in their car on campus. The car would have to be locked, and the weapon out of sight, when the person is away from it.

Similar rules would be extended to parking lots at jails and corrections facilities, as well as lots operated by the state, counties or cities.

The original bill would have allowed employees to keep guns in their cars in the parking lots of private employers, but that was taken out. Private schools and colleges are also exempted.

Democrats proposed adding gun control measures to the bill. They offered two amendments that failed to pass, including one that would have required universal background checks when buying firearms and another creating extreme risk protection orders that allow guns to be temporarily removed from people found to be a threat to others.

The latter has found support from Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, following the Nashville shooting.

Rep. Austin Baeth, D-Des Moines, said he recognizes that some consider gun ownership an important part of American culture.

“And that may be, but with it we must also acknowledge that the way things stand now gun violence is also a feature of our national culture,” Baeth said. “We should be passing legislation for gun safety, rather than only promoting an arms race against each other.”

Other Democrats said the bill would make schools less safe by putting more guns closer to students and teachers than ever before. Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison responded by saying he’s not afraid of legal gun owners.

“None of the school shootings that I’m aware of that have taken place involved a parent with a permit to carry, or an educator with a permit to carry, going up to a school to drop off their loved ones and just suddenly deciding to commit violence,” said Holt, the bill's floor manager.

Holt also said it’s gun-free zones that make him feel unsafe.

The bill that was passed Wednesday adds a requirement for schools to offer gun safety classes. Schools are encouraged to adopt the National Rifle Association’s Eddie Eagle program for kindergarten through sixth grade. It’s a gun safety awareness program aimed at children with animated characters.

Through middle and high school, school districts would have to offer the NRA’s hunter education course.

Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, D-Des Moines, voted against the overall bill but supported adding the gun safety classes in an amendment. He said kids come across guns and need to know how to respond.

“If a fourth grader finds one while he’s playing in the park, or if a middle school student sees one in school do they ignore it?,” Abdul-Samad said. “Or do they understand the safety of it and know they’re not supposed to touch it, that they’re then supposed to walk away and tell an adult.”

Rep. Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, said schools should be allowed to choose which gun safety program they offer. For instance, the gun control advocacy group Moms Demand Action offers a program to promote safe gun storage called Be SMART.

“We don’t believe at a time when Republicans are telling kids what they can and can’t read, telling teachers what they can and can’t talk about in the classroom, that adding curriculum on gun safety and hunting safety is something that we need to be focused on right now,” Konfrst said.

A related bill is active in the Iowa Senate.

Editor's note: This article has been corrected to show that, according to the bill, a weapons permit would apply when carrying a handgun in a vehicle on K-12 school grounds, but not other areas mentioned in the bill.

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa