Students walk out of class and march to the Capitol
On Monday, January 8, 2024, students across Iowa walked out of class to protest what they feel is lawmakers’ inaction on gun violence. The walkout was organized by March For Our Lives Iowa, a nonpartisan group that works to encourage young people to become involved in politics. The group was inspired by the recent shooting at Perry High School, where a 17-year-old gunman killed an 11-year-old boy and injured seven others, including the principal, before taking his own life.
The students gathered at the Iowa State Capitol at 1 p.m., where they delivered a letter to Gov. Kim Reynolds, outlining their legislative priorities. The letter called for a law that would require people to report lost or stolen firearms, and another that would temporarily ban people who have been proven to be at risk of harming themselves or others from purchasing or possessing a gun. The ban would be lifted once they received help.
“We are terrified to be in school,” said Akshara Eswar, one of the group’s executive state directors and a senior at Johnston High School. “We want our legislators to understand that we are not happy with the state of the gun laws in Iowa.”
Iowa lawmakers begin the 2024 legislative session
The student protest coincided with the first day of the 2024 legislative session, where Iowa lawmakers faced a range of issues, including the state budget, education funding, health care, and tax reform. However, gun legislation was not among the top priorities for the Republican-controlled legislature, which has passed several bills in recent years to expand gun rights in the state.
In 2020, Iowa became the 19th state to enact a permitless carry law, which allows people to carry a concealed firearm without a permit or background check. In 2021, Iowa passed a constitutional amendment that would enshrine the right to keep and bear arms in the state constitution, subject to a second vote by the next legislature and approval by voters in 2024.
Some Democratic lawmakers have introduced bills to address gun violence, such as requiring universal background checks, banning high-capacity magazines, and reinstating the permit requirement for concealed carry. However, these bills are unlikely to advance in the Republican-dominated chambers.
Iowa gun laws under scrutiny after Perry school shooting
The shooting at Perry High School has sparked a debate over Iowa’s gun laws, especially the permitless carry law that took effect in July 2020. According to authorities, the shooter, Dylan Butler, obtained a handgun from his father’s bedroom and brought it to school on Thursday, January 4, 2024. He opened fire in the cafeteria, killing Ahmir Jolliff, a sixth-grader, and wounding seven others, including Principal Dan Marburger. Butler then shot himself in the head and died at the scene.
Investigators are still trying to determine the motive behind the shooting, and whether Butler had any mental health issues or prior criminal history. However, some critics have argued that the permitless carry law made it easier for Butler to access a firearm without any oversight or accountability.
“This law has made it possible for anyone to get a gun, no questions asked,” said Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, a Democrat from Des Moines and a longtime advocate for gun violence prevention. “We need to have some common sense regulations that protect our children and our communities.”
However, some supporters of the permitless carry law have defended it, saying that it does not change the legal age to possess a handgun, which is 21 in Iowa, or the federal prohibition on selling firearms to minors. They also argued that the law respects the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens and does not affect the ability of law enforcement to prevent or respond to crimes.
“This law does not create criminals, it empowers citizens,” said Rep. Steven Holt, a Republican from Denison and the chair of the House Judiciary Committee. “We cannot legislate away evil, but we can uphold the rights of the people to defend themselves and their loved ones.”
Iowa community mourns the loss of a young life
As the debate over gun laws continues, the Perry community is grieving the loss of Ahmir Jolliff, who was described by his family and friends as a bright, kind, and funny boy who loved sports, music, and video games. He was a student at Perry Elementary School and had just returned from winter break when he was killed.
A vigil was held for Jolliff on Friday, January 5, 2024, at the Perry Performing Arts Center, where hundreds of people gathered to pay their respects and offer their support. Jolliff’s family released a statement, thanking the community for their prayers and asking for privacy as they cope with their loss.
“Our hearts are broken by the senseless act of violence that took our son’s life,” the statement read. “He was our joy and our pride, and we will always remember him as a loving, caring, and happy child. We hope that his death will not be in vain, and that something good will come out of this tragedy.”
Jolliff’s funeral was held on Monday, January 8, 2024, at the First United Methodist Church in Perry. He was laid to rest at Violet Hill Cemetery.