Bill to fund school safety, staff firearm training passes House

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LAS VEGAS - NOVEMBER 14: Eric Brandon of Nevada tries out a semi-automatic pistol at The Gun Store November 14, 2008 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Store manager Cliff Wilson said he's seen a large spike in sales since Barack Obama was elected president on November 4, with customers citing fears about the president-elect's record on firearms. The election, combined with a slumping economy, has contributed to an overall increase of 25-30 percent in gun sales at the store, Wilson said. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Written BY: ROBIN OPSAHL
Des Moines, IA – House lawmakers approved legislation Wednesday that would provide funding for schools to implement safety measures — including allowances for schools to pay for arming staff.

House File 2652, passed in a 59-35 vote, would create a $3 million grant program for schools to purchase “infrastructure and equipment related to employee permits to carry weapons,” as well as providing schools up to $25,000 for firearm training and stipends for employees who go through trainings.

These provisions work in conjunction with House File 2586passed by the House in February, which would create a training and permit system for school staff to carry firearms on campus as a measure to improve school safety.

Rep. Carter Nordman, R-Panora, said the bill comes after 10 weeks of discussion on school safety in the wake of the Perry High School shooting Jan. 4, where a gunman killed and injured students as well as the school principal Dan Marburger.

“As horrific as the events at Perry were, it has spurred a productive conversation within this body on the actions we can take to secure our schools, and ensure we have a safe learning environment across the state,” Nordman said.

Nordman said House Republicans believe improving school safety in Iowa requires a “multi-pronged approach”– and that the two bills introduced this session take multiple steps to improve safety measures.

In addition to the measures on funding for training staff to carry firearms, the bill also creates a pilot program for schools to implement gun detection software through existing school cameras. It would also require every school building to have an emergency radio system — paid for using federal American Rescue Plan funding — as well as allowing some schools to use mobile panic alert systems.

House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst said that while she and Democrats support measures to improve school safety, she did not support use of government funding to bring guns into schools. She also criticized the movement toward funding for firearms in schools while the Legislature has not provided overall funding for Iowa’s K-12 education. House lawmakers passed a 3% increase to per-pupil funding for Iowa’s public schools in February, but the Senate has yet to take up the bill.

“I also fear that we are creating a program in which teachers who are incentivized to bring guns to school might be put at an advantage that other teachers who choose not to bring guns to school might also feel,” Konfrst said. “I realize that this doesn’t directly appropriate the money, but it does create the program that allows for that to happen. I have concerns fundamentally about spending taxpayer dollars to put more guns in our schools.”

Nordman argued that “restrictive gun laws” supported by Democrats would not prevent shootings that have happened at Iowa educational spaces in recent years, including Perry, Des Moines East High School and Starts Right Here, but that the bills presented by Republicans provide “real preventative solutions” to gun violence at schools.

“The unfortunate reality remains that bad things can still happen,” Nordman said. “Rather than live in denial of that fact, House Republicans are working to lower response time to school emergencies.”

Nordman cited a Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll published Sunday that found a majority — 60% — of Iowans said they support arming teachers and staff in schools, with 38% opposing and 1% not sure. That support was higher among parents who have children younger than 18 who were polled, with 65% in favor of school staff having firearms in schools and 34% in opposition.

“No parent should have to worry about their student’s safety,” Nordman said. “No spouse should have to worry about their significant other coming home from a day of teaching. Schools should be a place for students and teachers to grow and learn. This bill in front of us offers solutions. The bill we passed last week offers solutions. That is what House Republicans do: offer solutions.”

The bill goes to the Senate for further consideration.

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