DES MOINES — Shockwaves from a deadly shooting at a Florida high school shook the Capitol on Thursday, where lawmakers halted plans to change the state’s gun permitting law and directed Iowa school officials to adopt security plans to deal with “active shooter” or disaster situations.
The “constitutional carry” firearms legislation that was slated for action was pulled from the Senate Judiciary Committee in the aftermath of the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., a day earlier.
“The team decided that we were not going to run it today,” said Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, manager of Senate File 2106, who expressed confidence the bill had the votes needed to clear committee and the full Iowa Senate.
He said the Florida shooting, in which a gunman killed 17 people, “apparently changed the optics enough that the team together decided that it would be best that we didn’t.”
Committee Chairman Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, said he made the decision to pull the gun bill from Thursday’s debate list after receiving indications the Iowa House did not plan to debate the issue this year and that Gov. Kim Reynolds was not interested in changing Iowa’s current permitting process.
“The governor said that she was not interested in this bill and liked the current permit system the way it is, and so I made the decision that it needed to be taken off the agenda,” Zaun said. “I’m disappointed. It makes me sick what happened down in Florida but with that said I did have the votes to move this thing forward” but “I decided to pull it off the agenda.”
SF 2106 would remove the general prohibition on carrying weapons without a permit as well as repealing the duty to carry a permit.
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The legislation also repeals Iowa’s permit to acquire handguns and replaces it with a duty to comply with federal law for the acquisition of weapons, which includes a background check. A person still would be allowed to use a carry permit to acquire a gun.
“Gov. Reynolds is a strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment, and she supports maintaining current permitting requirements,” her spokeswoman, Brenna Smith, wrote in an email.
Reynolds ordered all state flags to be lowered to half-staff until sunset Monday to honor those murdered and injured in Wednesday’s attack.
Sen. Rick Bertrand, R-Sioux City, the bill’s lead sponsor, praised Zaun and Schultz for their leadership but conceded “it’s simple math” there wasn’t enough support.
“Today was the day to defend the Second Amendment, not bow to anti-gun rhetoric, and these individuals will have this day stapled to every political resume moving forward,” Bertrand said in a statement.
“The reality is that some of my colleagues simply got scared, it was gut check time, and today the Second Amendment needed leaders, not talkers,” he added.
House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, said she was reluctant to comment since she had not seen the Senate bill.
But Zaun said he was told by the House GOP point person on firearms legislation that the bill would not pass the House if the measure cleared the Senate, so there was no need to push it.
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“I thought it was a very logical first step based on our constitution. There was definitely safeguards in place that people that should not have guns would not be able to get guns,” Zaun said. “Obviously we need to have a conversation about mental health in the state of Iowa rather than guns. We do a poor job in the state of Iowa with mental health.”
Earlier Thursday, members of the Senate Education Committee passed Senate File 2253, a measure that would require Iowa schools to establish security plans for buildings in their districts. Sponsors said the bill had cleared subcommittee early this week and it was “bad coincident” that it won unanimous support one day after the shooting.
“This isn’t a knee-jerk reaction to some sensational news,” said Democratic Sen. Tod Bowman, a Maquoketa High School teacher who recounted his experiences in active-shooter drills and said he was “caught off guard” by data indicating only 85 percent of Iowa schools have plans.
“These are mock situations but they are as real as we can get it,” he said. “I can tell you the first time that we did it my heart beat was racing. There are no right or wrong decisions that you make. You make them on gut.”
Sen. Jim Carlin, R-Sioux City, said he was reluctant to add another mandate to districts but said “the concern I have and I think it’s a valid concern is rural schools in particular to do not have law enforcement within minutes of the locations of schools.”
During Thursday’s Senate floor work, Ocheyedan Sen. David Johnson made note of the Florida shooting and that fact that at least a half-dozen gun bills were moving through the Senate committee process.
“So enough is enough, maybe? Do we need a gun everywhere?” the independent asked.
After the Senate adjourned for committee work, a spectator in the gallery, Heather Smith of Des Moines, shouted at senators working at their desks her concerns about gun safety, saying, “we’re living as if we’re in a war zone” before being escorted out.
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