Somber topic of Perry shooting addressed on 2024 Iowa legislature’s opening day

DES MOINES — The 2024 Iowa legislative session has begun with moments of silence to acknowledge the victims of last Thursday’s shooting at Perry High School — and House and Senate leaders are promising to focus on school safety.

No bills have been proposed at this point, but House Speaker Pat Grassley provided an outline of school safety measures Republicans support. “It means investing in school security. It means prioritizing school resources officers. It means protecting children’s mental health. It means teaching resilience over victimhood,” Grassley said, “and it means ridding our classrooms and school libraries of inappropriate material.”

Grassley cited the underlying reason for a response. “People choose Iowa because our state is viewed as safe,” Grassley said, “so when we see these senseless acts of violence in our own home state, it shakes us to the core.”

House Democratic Leader Jennifer Konfrst also issued a general call for action. “People at the end of this session should feel safer taking their kids to school in the morning than they do today. That’s our job,” Konfrst said. “Let’s work together to get something done.”

Konfrst said people are scared to be in public places. “It’s not enough to just move on,” Konfrst said. “Ahmir deserves better and so do all of our kids.”

The funeral for 11 year old Ahmir Jolliff — the 6th grader who was shot to death last Thursday — is scheduled for Thursday of this week Perry. Senate Democratic Leader Pam Jochum daughter died in 2018 and she said there is “no pain” like the loss of a child. “In our grief, though, we must ask tough questions and acknowledge hard truths,” Jochum said. “How do we tame violence in our country, violence that touched East High School in Des Moines less than two years ago and now Perry?”

Jochum said gun safety must be part of the discussion. “We must find a solution to gun violence,” Jochum said. “No child should go to school fearing for their lives.”

Senate Republican Leader Jack Whitver promised action on school safety in general, but shared no specifics. “While we can’t legislate away evil and get rid of all the bad things in this world, we keep our thoughts and prayers with those in Perry as we move forward and put in place policies to make our state better and stronger,” Whitver said.

Whitver singled out the gravely wounded Perry High School principal who tried to stop the 17-year-old shooting suspect, giving other students time to escape.”It is a remarkable demonstration of courage and self-sacrifice,” Whitver said. “Being a servant leader is easy to talk about, but in moments like these it is hard to do. It shows how leaders act in times of crisis. It shows how Iowans act to protect and defend each other.”

The lawmakers made their remarks during opening day speeches in the House and Senate on Monday.