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STAFF EDITORIAL: What More Will It Take?

Iowa school shootings continue to threaten students’ safety
Rosangel Flores-Rubio

On May 17th, 1984, a 17-year-old student entered Southeast Polk High School in Pleasant Hill, Iowa, carrying a handgun. What ensued is almost unimaginable. Two students were killed in the first school shooting in Iowa.

Nearly half a century later, very little has changed. On January 4th, 2024, a 17-year-old entered Perry High School in Perry, Iowa, carrying both a handgun and a shotgun. Seven people were injured, and two died. Ahmir Jolliff, a 6th grader, died after being shot three times, and Perry High School’s principal, Dan Marburger, died on January 14th as a result of his injuries. The shooter, student Dylan Butler, shot himself after his rampage.

The Iowa City Community School District is by no means immune to the real-life threats of gun violence. Last November, a parent entered Grant Wood Elementary School and threatened staff members with a gun. The school was placed on lockdown. Many students and staff were shaken by the experience.

According to the Center for Homeland Defense and Security, there have been a total of 2069 school shootings since 1970 in the United States. That is about 38 school shootings every single year. The U.S. leads the world with the highest number of school shootings by a large margin.

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Instead of acting to make guns less accessible, Iowa lawmakers made the process of obtaining a gun much easier in 2021 by removing the permit requirement. Acquiring a permit previously involved firearm safety training and extensive background checks. Lawmakers have also made it permissible for anyone who is at least 21 years of age who legally owns a firearm to “open carry” their fully or partially visible firearm in public without a permit or license.

In an attempt to loosen gun laws even further, Iowa lawmakers this year passed House File 654, which states that it is legal to keep a dangerous weapon inside of a vehicle in a “publicly accessible, nonsecure parking lot,” such as a school parking lot.

In an age of rampant school shootings, the idea that anyone can legally bring a gun onto school property is unconscionable. The tangible consequences of this lack of accountability show themselves, over and over again.

Following the shooting at Perry, Governor Kim Reynolds failed to acknowledge her party’s lax gun laws as a factor in creating an environment that made the shooting more likely.

After offering thoughts and prayers to the Perry community, Reynolds said, “This was a horrible tragedy. No additional gun laws would have prevented what happened.” She blamed the 17-year-old high school student’s actions on evil. “There’s just evil out there,” Reynolds said.

With this statement, Reynolds abdicated responsibility to prevent school shootings. She overlooked the fact that lawmakers have a significant responsibility to ensure the safety of Iowa schoolchildren. The decision to commit murder is the result of complex factors, but the access to a gun that enables shootings is under the express purview of Reynolds and Iowa lawmakers.

Although some may claim otherwise, the solution to gun violence is not to make gun access easier. Nor is the solution to increase the number of firearms in a school by installing a security team or arming teachers. The solution is simply to limit access to dangerous weapons in the first place. While the sentiment that “Guns don’t kill people, people do,” rings true, it is also a fact that none of these incidents would have happened without access to guns.

Political polarization has led lawmakers to disregard various solutions to gun violence. The fight against gun violence should transcend party lines. After all, its consequences do. Children, teachers, and staff die and are harmed regardless of their political views.

We call on lawmakers in Iowa and the United States to step up to their responsibilities and initiate stricter gun laws. We call on the citizens of Iowa to do their duty and vote for politicians who will protect the people they represent, and who will use the millions of dollars that have been granted to make schools safer. Until then, our lives are on the line.

This story was originally published on The Little Hawk on February 14, 2024.