Iowans could keep guns in their locked cars in the parking lots of schools, city and county buildings, state universities and prisons, under a bill passed Wednesday by the Iowa House.
Lawmakers approved House File 654 on a vote of 62-37 after two hours of emotional debate. Most Republicans voted yes but two — Reps. Gary Mohr, R-Bettendorf, and Chad Ingels, R-Randalia — joined Democrats in voting no.
The bill must still pass the Iowa Senate before it can become law.
It’s the latest expansion of gun rights by the Republican-controlled Iowa Legislature, which has passed several laws loosening or repealing gun regulations in recent years, including a 2021 law eliminating the requirement for Iowans to have a permit to carry or possess handguns.
And it comes on the heels of recent mass shootings that have rocked the nation when a gunman killed 5 people in a Louisville bank one day after Easter Sunday and a former student shot dead three children and three adults March 27 at a parochial school in Nashville.
Last fall, Iowa voters approved adding a Republican-backed amendment to the state constitution protecting the right “to keep and bear arms” and adding language that goes beyond the protections in the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment. The measure passed 65% to 35%.
“I do think this comes down to trusting free men and women,” said Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison. “And that is what the Second Amendment is about, that is what the Bill of Rights is about, that is what our whole country and our constitution are predicated upon — trusting free men and women to conduct themselves responsibly.”
Throughout the debate, Democrats spoke passionately about mass shootings around the country, and school shootings in Iowa. They said the bill won’t protect student safety.
“This bill puts guns closer to our kids, to our teachers, to our school staff and to our schools,” said Rep. Sue Cahill, D-Marshalltown, a retired public school teacher. “How can we let this happen? We need to support gun safety.”
Who would be allowed to have guns in their cars in Iowa school parking lots?
Iowans who have a permit to carry handguns would be allowed to have a gun in their car while in school driveways or parking lots if they’re dropping off or picking up a student or school staff member. While the 2021 law eliminated the requirement for a permit, many Iowans still apply for them.
The gun would have to remain locked in the car if the person leaves their vehicle, according to the bill.
“This is a school safety issue,” said Rep. Josh Turek, D-Council Bluffs. “More guns on school property is just not an intelligent decision. Let’s keep our children safe. Let’s keep our schools safe. Let’s keep our schools gun-free zones.”
Holt said the people who would be allowed to have guns in their cars on school grounds would only be those with a valid permit to carry handguns — meaning they’ve passed a background check and undergone training.
“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,” Holt said. “All of these things were premediated and were because of mental illness.”
Guns and other weapons would not be allowed in school vehicles that carry students, except in cases when the school district has a policy of allowing staff members to carry guns. At least two school districts in Iowa, Spirit Lake and Cherokee, have approved such policies.
The bill would say insurers cannot refuse to insure school districts based solely on whether the district has a policy allowing school staff to be armed.
What else would the Iowa gun bill do?
The bill would also allow any Iowan who can legally carry a firearm to keep a lawfully-owned gun in their car in parking lots on state, city or county-owned property if the gun remains out of sight in a locked vehicle.
That includes those without permits to carry handguns.
Some of the public areas that would be affected by the bill include the state Supreme Court building, state parks, state prisons, jails, some Little League parks, the governor’s mansion at Terrace Hill, libraries, county fairgrounds and city pools, according to an analysis by House Republican staffers.
Community colleges and the state’s three public universities would not be allowed to adopt policies that stop people from carrying or keeping guns in a locked personal vehicle on the institution’s grounds, as long as the weapon is not visible from outside the vehicle.
The bill would also protect the Iowa Board of Regents and community college boards from lawsuits stemming from allowing guns on the institutions’ grounds.
It eliminates the state’s ban on firearms at casinos and would instead allow each casino to set their own policy about whether weapons are allowed on the premises.
Holt said he’s more comfortable when law-abiding Iowans can carry firearms because “the bad guys don’t care what the law says.”
“I do feel more comfortable when law-abiding citizens are allowed to carry a firearm,” he said. “I feel very, very vulnerable in a gun-free zone because I know that mentally ill individuals who have decided to commit violence against other human beings don’t care what the law is. And that a gun-free zone becomes a shooting gallery.”
An earlier version of the legislation required guns to be allowed in the parking lots of private businesses as well, but Republicans removed that portion of the bill before passing the measure.
“This amended bill protects businesses, but it doesn’t protect children,” Cahill said. “This bill allows casinos to decide what their policy will be for their gun law enforcement, but it doesn’t let schools decide — the places that care for your children, your grandchildren, your neighbors, your constituents.”
Emotional debate prompts reprimand about decorum
Democrats spoke emotionally in opposition to the legislation during House debate Wednesday.
They mentioned mass shootings around the country, including the March 27 shooting at The Covenant School, a private Christian school in Nashville and recent school shootings in Des Moines at East High School in 2022 and at Starts Right Here, an alternative education program, in January.
“Parents and children and teachers shouldn’t have to live in fear,” said Rep. Lindsay James, D-Dubuque. “Every year, the principal at my kids’ elementary school sends me an email informing me that my child, my 9- and 13-year-old, just rehearsed an active shooter drill. And every school year I wonder if I should buy a bulletproof backpack.”
Rep. J.D. Scholten, D-Sioux City, told a story about a friend of his who was shot and killed, criticizing the bill’s provision that would let people keep guns in cars on college campuses.
“I have to give credit where credit is due,” Scholten said. “This bill, the level of not giving a s— is impressive.”
Scholten’s comment prompted a point of order and a reprimand from Rep. John Wills, R-Spirit Lake, who was presiding over the debate.
“The decorum in this room, in this body, will be maintained,” Wills said. “There will be no more outbursts, no more swearing, no more throwing microphones down. This building, this room is a place to do legislative business.”
Republicans add requirement for schools to teach gun safety
Lawmakers also added new language about schools providing age-appropriate firearm safety training to students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
The training for students in kindergarten through sixth grade would be based on the National Rifle Association’s “Eddie Eagle” program, which instructs children not to touch a gun and to immediately tell an adult.
The training for students in seventh through 12th grade would be based on the NRA’s hunter education course.
“We have a lot of young people in our schools now that are being confronted and finding guns in lockers,” said Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, D-Des Moines. “We have young people going into parks and finding guns. And at some point we have to take a stand and say, ‘Hey, how do we educate our children?'”
Stephen Gruber-Miller covers the Iowa Statehouse and politics for the Register. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 515-284-8169. Follow him on Twitter at @sgrubermiller.