House GOP bill lets staff carry weapons on school grounds

DES MOINES — In response to last month’s school shooting in Perry, Republicans in the Iowa House are proposing that Iowa school or college employees with professional gun permits be allowed to carry weapons on school grounds.

Nathan Gibson, school board president of the Interstate-35 district in Truro,said the bill could help districts that want their staff to be armed, but can’t get liability insurance.

“This is long overdue,” he said, “and something we need to do to protect the most precious assets we have in our life.”

Angela Olsen, director of special projects for the Spirit Lake School District, said her district had armed staff for six months, but cancelled the program after struggling to find an insurance carrier. Olsen said having a school resource officer in the high school isn’t enough. “And I would compare it to Perry, like they have an SRO but he wasn’t there,” Olsen said. “…If we have the ability to have multiple people in multiple buildings at all times of the day, it’s the only way to address an active shooter at the time.”

Catherine Lucas, a lawyer with the Iowa Department of Public Safety, told lawmakers the agency has a lot of unanswered questions about the bill, like what kind of weapons would school staff be allowed to carry and who would do the required training for armed school staff.

“Ohio has a program like this and they have a staff of 40. Currently the Governor’s School Safety Bureau in Iowa has one sworn member,” Lucas said. “…Rolling out all the training is going to be a very significant lift on the Department of Public Safety.”

Hannah Hayes, a Des Moines high school senior, is in the Students Demand Action group that supports new gun restrictions. Hayes, the only student who testified during the House subcommittee hearing on the bill, urged lawmakers to oppose it.

“Making schools a war zone is not going to make me feel safer,” she said.

The bill also would require the state’s 11 largest school districts to hire at least one officer from the local police department or a private firm to provide security in high school buildings. There would be no mandate for other Iowa high schools, but all school districts could apply for a $50,000 state grant to cover the cost of a security officer.