What Iowa legislators have done following the Florida school shooting

Danielle Gehr and Devyn Leeson

After a school shooter left 17 students dead in Parkland, Florida, survivors of the incident have made what they want clear: legislative action.

The pro-gun restriction voices — many being Generation Z-ers getting their first taste of political activism — had their victories. In Florida, legislators have proposed the age to purchase a gun be raised and a three-day waiting period for most purchases of long guns, according to the Washington Post.

This action still falls short of the ban on assault weapons that these activists are pushing for. 

Though states like Florida are moving toward gun restrictions, other states around the country, including Iowa, have taken to loosening gun laws. 

The day after the Feb. 14 Florida shooting, an amendment to the Iowa constitution, SJR 2009, that would further prioritize the right to bear arms was introduced to the House.

“The sovereign state of Iowa affirms and recognizes this right to be a fundamental individual right,” the legislation states. “Any and all restrictions of this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny.”

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said the bill would go beyond the Second Amendment, making gun restrictions even more difficult to pass. 

The bill was pulled from the agenda Wednesday. Quirmbach said, “You can take a guess whether that had anything to do with the school shooting in Maryland.”

At Great Mills High School in Maryland, a 17-year-old male shot two other students Tuesday morning leaving one in critical condition, according to CNN. A school resource officer, Blaine Gaskill, exchanged gunfire with the gunman. It is not yet confirmed whether or not Gaskill’s round killed the gunman, or if the gunman killed himself.

Stephen Willeford, an NRA gun instructor, praised the actions of the St. Mary’s County sheriff’s deputy calling him “another good guy with a gun,” according to NBC. 

The NRA has used Gaskill as an example of their mantra that armed citizens are the ones who “can stop a bad guy with a gun.” 

As of Wednesday, the proposed amendment passed through both the Iowa House and Senate — passing in the Senate Wednesday, 34-15, and in the House Monday, 54-42. 

“[This bill] would make it, I think, significantly more difficult to implement any kind of sensible regulation,” Quirmbach said. “In other words, we’re going the wrong direction.”

Since the bill would be an amendment to the Iowa Constitution, it requires the joint resolution to pass through both the House and Senate this legislative cycle and next as well as be voted on by Iowa residents.


Quirmbach is in support of access to legitimate hunting weapons and permits for people with a need for self defense. 

“I don’t see any need for high capacity assault weapons,” Quirmbach said. “An assault weapon, however you want to define it, is not a defensive weapon; it’s an offensive weapon.

“I don’t see any particular need for high capacity magazines of the kind that were used in the Florida shooting and I think that there are some significant loopholes in the background check process.”

Quirmbach is in the middle of working on a bill to address the background check process. Since he needs time to work through some technical issues, including making sure state violations are posted to the federal database properly, this bill won’t see the floor until the next legislative session.

Another aspect of gun violence issues in the U.S. that Quirmbach said he thinks need to be addressed are a lack of mental health services.

“Kids who are having mental problems, whether they are going to take it out on themselves or take it out on their classmates, we need to recognize that and intervene before violence occurs,” Quirmbach said. “There is no one magic solution here. I think we need a multi-pronged approach. Part of it is background checks, part of it is mental health and part of it also is there are just some weapons for which there is no legitimate use.” 

The statement that there is more to solving gun violence than taking away the Second Amendment is something Sen. Joni Ernst can agree with. 

In an emailed statement, Ernst said, “There isn’t one answer to solving this issue, and it’s critical that we continue to engage in these discussions at all levels of government.

“Everyone must commit to working together to find common sense solutions to these acts of violence that incorporate robust enforcement of our current gun laws, keeping our children safe, expansion of mental health provider access, ensuring law enforcement and mental health providers are equipped with the necessary training and resources, and tangible efforts to build stronger communities.”

Ernst supported the 21st Century Cures Act, which addresses mental health and promotes safer communities.

Ernst also introduced the Students, Teachers, and Officers Preventing (STOP) School Violence Act of 2018 which would provide better security for schools and “invests in early intervention and prevention programs to stop school violence before it happens.”

After a New York Times opinion article listed the top politicians benefitting from NRA funding, Joni Ernst’s place at number seven on that list has caused controversy for the U.S. senator from Iowa. 

According to the article, Ernst has received over $3.1 million in funding. In an emailed statement, Laura Peavey, Ernst’s deputy press secretary, said this number is false and Ernst has been a supporter of the Second Amendment and gun owner “long before the NRA ever knew who she was as a citizen in Iowa.”

“The reality is, many groups and organizations run commercials independently, without permission or consent of candidates or elected officials, which makes up much of the money these misleading stories point to,” Peavey wrote. 

The NRA gave Ernst an “A” rating. 


One bill moving through the Senate would require schools to go through active shooter training.

This bill, SF 2253, has mustered up support on both sides one day after Nikolas Cruz pulled a fire alarm and shot students at his former school as they filed out of classrooms.

The bill requires schools to set up protocols for school shooters, natural disasters and other emergencies before June 30, 2019. These plans can be given recommendations by the state and must be in compliance with local law enforcement.

“It basically dictates to school districts that they have to have an appropriate emergency plan. I’m presuming that something like 80 percent of the districts already have that, but just in case they need to be reminded we have moved a bill forward along those lines,” Quirmbach said.

“I can’t imagine that any school administrator who is at all competent hasn’t already worked through this issue.”

With 80 percent of schools in the state currently having protocols for active shooters, legislators realize the need for active shooter trainings but are saddened by the necessity in this day and age.

Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Waterloo, shared his support for the bill on social media: “Today, after another school shooting tragedy in Florida, I voted to require all Iowa K-12 schools to have a plan and practice for active shooter incidents.”

Danielson also stated his concerns for the state moving forward: “I would rather be voting on better mental healthcare, real background checks and greater accountability for assault weapon ownership.”

This stance is one shared by many Democrats in the Iowa Legislature, but Senate and House Republicans don’t completely agree. Speaker of the House Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, gave her support for the bill and said she was willing to discuss the mental health issues in the state.

Since the shooting Wednesday, no legislation has been pursued that would tighten gun laws in the state, and with the first legislative deadline passed, no new bills are coming for the 2018 session.

Following the shooting, Sen. Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa, proposed legislation, SF 2086, that would recognize the Second Amendment in schools. 

“The bill provides that a person with a valid nonprofessional permits to carry weapons may go armed with, carry, or transport a firearm on school grounds,” the bill stated. 

The bill died before making it to the senate floor. 

“A seriously dumb idea,” Quirmbach said, “The bill died an appropriate death, metaphorically speaking.”

Chelgren did not respond to requests for comments. 

A constitutional carry was scheduled to be discussed on Feb. 14 but, after the Florida shooting, was taken off the agenda. Quirmbach said he doesn’t believe this bill will move through this legislative session.