Two gun bills head to governor’s desk: one to prevent tracking of suspicious purchases, one to protect armed school staff from liability

Gun Rights
Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

Republicans in the Iowa Legislature have passed two bills dealing with guns this week. On Tuesday, the Iowa Senate gave final approval to a bill to prevent credit card companies from taking steps that would make it easier for law enforcement agencies to identify purchases of firearms and ammunition. A day earlier, the House voted 62-36 in favor of a bill creating legal immunity for teachers or other school staff designated to carry guns on school property and requiring the state’s 11 largest school districts to employ armed security in their high schools. 

Both bills passed the House and Senate on a series of largely party-line votes. Gov. Kim Reynolds is expected to sign both into law. 

HF 2464 prohibits credit card companies from using transaction codes that distinguish firearms retailers from other stores. Credit card companies routinely assign unique codes to different categories of businesses in order to track purchase patterns. In 2022, the International Standards Organization, which set rules for financial services companies, approved the creation of a code for transactions by firearms dealers to help address the problem of illicit gun sales.

Seven other Republican-led states have already passed bans on credit card transaction codes that identify gun retailers. These bans are being promoted by the NRA and other gun lobbyist groups in response to a new California law requiring credit card companies to create a unique code for purchases at standalone gun stores. That law doesn’t go into effect until May 2025. 

Gov. Kim Reynolds signs Iowa’s strict scrutiny amendment for gun reform into law on Dec. 12, 2022. — via Twitter

Proponents of the California law say assigning a unique merchant code to stores that primarily sell guns and ammunition will help law enforcement agencies identify possible gun trafficking and straw purchases of weapons. Proponents also point to mass shootings like the 2012 movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, and at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida in 2016. In both cases, the shooter used credit cards to buy weapons and stockpile large amounts of ammunition shortly before their crimes. Under the new California law, credit card companies are encouraged to contact law enforcement agencies if they detected any unusual purchase patterns at gun stores. The companies are already required by federal law to alert authorities in cases when purchases suggest a connection to terrorism or identity theft.

During the House debate on HF 2484 in February, Rep. Phi Thompson, a Republican from Boone and chair of the House Public Safety Committee, claimed there were darker, unspoken reasons for the California law — “this is just a back[door] way to keep a list” of gun owners, he said. — and that’s why Iowa needed a state ban preventing the possibility that law enforcement agencies could easily access such  information about gun and ammunition purchases in the state. 

That wasn’t the first time this legislative session that Thompson evoked the possibility of the government creating secret lists of gun owners. A week earlier, he helped kill a bill that would have required guns built from kits or created by 3D printers to have serial numbers, as guns produced in factories do. Proponents of the bill said it would help police investigate crimes committed with so-called “ghost guns.”

“As much as I would like to trust and operate in good will with the ATF or [Iowa] Department of Public Safety, setting up the logistical framework for the registration frankly terrifies me, he said. 

The bill passed on Monday was the response of the Republican majority to the Jan. 4 school shooting in Perry. Even before the legislature was gavelled into session on Jan. 8, leaders made it clear they would do nothing to further regulate access to guns, even for minors or on school grounds. 

“While we can’t legislate away evil and get rid of all the bad things in this world, we will 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,” Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, a Republican from Grimes, said on the first day of the session. 

Appearing on Iowa Press the following week, Gov. Reynolds used the same sort of language. 

“No additional gun laws would have prevented what happened,” Reynolds said. “There’s just evil out there.”

Two students huddle together with a “Thoughts and prayers aren’t enough” sign during a walk-out protest at the Pentacrest, on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, in Iowa City, Iowa. Emotional students talked about the fear of school shootings and urged lawmakers to act. – Adria Carpenter/Little Village

HF 2586 gives armed teachers or other designed school staff who have completed a state certification course the same sort of qualified immunity police officers have in Iowa if they injure or kill someone with their gun. As long as the school employee is determined to have used “reasonable force,” neither they nor the school district can be held civilly or criminally liable for what happens when they discharge their firearm on school property. 

Following the 2022 mass shooting at the elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 19 students and two teachers, the school board in Spirit Lake voted to allow teachers and other staff members who completed a training course to carry guns on school property. The board quickly reversed its decision after the district’s insurer said it would not renew its liability coverage if school staff other than school resources officers — who are professional law enforcement officers — were permitted to carry guns at work. 

Rather than address the safety concerns about armed staff causing accidental injuries and deaths, lawmakers are attempting  to bypass the problem of liability by granting qualified immunity to armed school staff. 

HF 2586 also requires public school districts with more than 8,000 students to have either an armed school resource officer or an armed private security guard at each of its high schools. This provision will only apply to 11 of the more than 300 public school districts in the state. 

Public high schools in Des Moines, Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, Ankeny, Council Bluffs, Davenport, Dubuque, Sioux City, Waterloo, Waukee and West Des Moines would be required to have armed security on campus during school hours unless the local school board votes against it. 

The nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency estimated the likely cost school districts would face if they add the armed security required by HF 2586. The cost range from a low of $126,000 in the Council Bluffs Community School District and the Dubuque Community School District, both of which have two high schools, to a high of $378,000 for Des Moines Public Schools, which has six high schools. The agency estimates that the Iowa City Community School District, which current doesn’t have school resource officers or armed private security, would face an additional cost of $252,000. 

One Republican, Rep. Matthew Rinker of Burlington, joined all the House Democrats in voting against the bill on Monday.  It was the second time the House voted on HF 2586. The bill was sent back to the House for approval after the Senate amended it to remove a grant program that would have helped the 11 large school districts pay for school resource officers or private security.

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