Valley High School Senior Luke Rowley remembers what it was like going to school the day after the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting in which 19 children and two adults were killed by a gunman.
“I remember a sense of dread in the hallways, students at Valley were terrified for their life—students everywhere were,” he said. “I remember there was a balloon that popped and I could look around the hallways and see fear on people’s faces because they were terrified something as innocent as a balloon was a gun.”
“That is horrifying [that] the first thing my mind goes through and the first thing every student’s mind goes to when they hear a loud noise is that there is a shooting,” he continued.
Luke shared that story during a Monday protest in the rotunda of the Iowa Statehouse. The protest (which included a “die-in” where students feigned being dead) was put on by student organizers from March for Our Lives Iowa and Iowa WTF to oppose legislation that would make it easier to bring guns on the campuses of Iowa schools, community colleges, and universities.
SF 543 allows people who have valid concealed carry permits to keep guns on them on school property, but outside the school building itself, as long as the firearms are not visible in school parking lots or driveways when picking up or dropping off a child at school. The bill also allows schools to authorize “a person” to carry, transport, or possess a firearm or ammunition in a school vehicle.
Additionally, if the bill becomes law, no Iowa regent university or community college would be able to implement a policy that bars people from bringing dangerous weapons on campus if those weapons are stored in a locked vehicle and out of plain sight.
The NRA- and Iowa Firearm Coalition-endorsed bill also prohibits “all state and local governmental entities” from restricting an employee’s right to keep weapons and ammunition in their vehicles.
HF 654, the Iowa House version of the bill, includes an amendment that makes age-appropriate gun safety curriculum developed by the NRA required learning in grades K-12. School districts would have until July 1, 2024, to develop and implement that curriculum.
Another difference between the House and Senate versions of the bill is that private businesses would not be able to restrict employees from keeping loaded guns in their cars under the Senate proposal. The House removed this provision from its bill after there was some pushback by business lobbyists.
Luke questioned the priority of Iowa legislators, Republicans in particular, who have gone all out this session in attacking trans kids and the LGBTQ community.
“It is disgraceful that our legislators are trying to legislate trans kids and trying to hurt them and push them away saying ‘that’s the real evil’ when the real evil is gun violence,” Luke said. “The real evil is gun violence. I’m not afraid of a trans kid in the bathroom, I’m afraid of a freaking gun.”
Sam McCalister, a Johnston High School junior, said school shootings have been a constant fear of his since elementary school.
“This year alone, we’ve had someone bring a gun to a football game and we had to enact a clear bag policy,” Sam said.
The hour-long protest had about a dozen speakers including leaders from Iowa WTF and March for Our Lives Iowa, various Iowa high school students, Democratic legislators, and Tim Muhammed of Creative Visions, a Des Moines nonprofit that works on gun violence issues in the community.
“I got my son right here on the floor with me because I’m worried about how his future is going to be—not even his future—I’m worried about his present right now,” Muhammed said gesturing to his 7-year-old son, Josiah, who was participating in the “die-in.”
“Are you going to wait until [gun violence] gets to your kid or are you going to stop it at the moment where you can stop it now because things are getting worse and they are going to continue to get worse until people take it seriously?” Muhammed asked.
Hannah Hayes, a junior at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines and organizer with March for Our Lives, is concerned with a number of items in the bill but is most alarmed by the provision to allow loaded guns into the parking lots of schools and colleges.
“There is no evidence that allowing guns on campuses reduces crime or makes things safer,” she said.
Hannah also referenced a couple of national news stories about people being shot for no valid reason including the story of Ralph Yarl, a 16-year-old Black child from the Kansas City area who was shot twice by an elderly white man after knocking on the wrong door.
“We’ve seen in the past few weeks that simply walking into the wrong driveway or going up to the wrong car can get you killed in this country,” Hannah said. “And easy access to guns in cars will only make this risk much worse.
“We are here to remind our legislators that the lives of children and the rights of property owners are more important to us than wielding firearms,” she added. “We must demand that our legislators oppose Senate File 543 because enough is enough. The time is now, we will not wait for the next shooting to take action because change is long overdue.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story had an incorrect spelling of Luke Rowley’s last name.
by Ty Rushing
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