A proposed law could change carrying guns around schools

Bills in the Iowa legislature could enable Iowans to carry guns while dropping off or picking people up from schools.

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A proposed law could change carrying guns around schools

The Capitol building in Des Moines is pictured on Saturday, April 29, 2018.

The Capitol building in Des Moines is pictured on Saturday, April 29, 2018.

Ben Allan Smith

The Capitol building in Des Moines is pictured on Saturday, April 29, 2018.

Ben Allan Smith

Ben Allan Smith

The Capitol building in Des Moines is pictured on Saturday, April 29, 2018.

Julia DiGiacomo, EPI Reporter

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Gun legislation moving through the Iowa Legislature could allow firearms to be carried in school parking lots and county courthouses.

A Senate study bill  that was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Jan. 16 would grant firearm-permit holders in Iowa the ability to carry concealed weapons on school grounds while transporting people or items to and from the facility.

Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, introduced a similar bill in the Iowa House on Wednesday. His bill is a broader version of its Senate counterpart — if passed, it would allow people  to carry firearms in the parking lots and sidewalks of schools, inside county courthouses, and locked in cars outside of places of work.

“The bill clarifies where law-abiding citizens can and cannot carry throughout the state. For a long time, we’ve had these imaginary lines that have been arbitrarily drawn,” Windschitl said. “People don’t even know about the restrictions in some of these places. So this is an attempt to make sure that it is clear.”

Currently, carrying a firearm anywhere on school grounds, including while dropping off family members, is punishable by a Class D felony, which carries a sentence of up to five years imprisonment and a fine ranging from $750 to $7,500.

“There are thousands of Iowans right now who are completely oblivious to the fact that even if they have a permit to carry weapons, they are prohibited under Iowa law from carrying that firearm onto school property, and they potentially might face that felony,” Windschitl said.

David Wilkerson, the government-relations director for School Administrators of Iowa, filed a lobbyist declaration against the Senate bill shortly after it was introduced. He said that allowing firearms anywhere on school grounds could be troublesome if a dire situation arises. He doesn’t think people with limited training with firearms should carry near schools at all.

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However, he said, the School Administrators of Iowa generally supports a separate bill introduced by Sen. Kevin Kinney, D-Oxford, which would allow only police officers to carry a weapon on school grounds, including inside the school.

“We’re all right with that because [law-enforcement officers] have extensive training with firearms and have a handle on crisis situations,” Wilkerson said.

That bill was approved by committee on Jan. 28.

Kinney was on the subcommittee that approved the 2019 Senate study bill regarding people carrying guns in parking lots. He said he supports that bill in its current form as long as it is not amended to allow wider access for firearms near schools.

Related: Possible action to give teachers guns could affect Iowa City schools, UI students

Richard Rogers, a lobbyist for the Iowa Firearms Coalition, has testified in subcommittee meetings on the issue of allowing guns on school grounds both in 2018, when the bill was first introduced, and this year. The bill in 2018 never passed out of the Judiciary Committee. Rogers said allowing firearms in school parking lots has been one of his organization’s priorities for years.

Currently, people carrying have to unload their weapons, secure them in a closed and fastened container, or put them in the trunk of a vehicle before entering school grounds, Rogers said.

“This is an unnecessary manipulation of loaded guns. There’s also no reason it should be a felony to do this,” he said. “There are a lot of people who are committing this crime and don’t realize it, although we try to educate them and tell them not to do so.”

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