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Students rally at the Iowa Capitol days after Perry school shooting



Students and supporters gather in the rotunda to protest gun violence during the opening day of the Iowa Legislature, Monday, Jan. 8, 2024, at the Capitol in Des Moines, Iowa. The school walkout and protest were organized by March For Our Lives Iowa in reaction to a school shooting in Perry, Iowa, in which a 17-year-old killed a sixth-grade student and wounded seven other people before authorities say he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — This year’s Iowa legislative session kicked off Monday with student protestors filling the Capitol rotunda to call for stricter gun laws just days after a school shooting in Perry, Iowa, that left one 11-year-old boy dead and seven other people wounded.

High school and college students in the Des Moines area walked out of classes and came to the Iowa Capitol, where a couple hundred people rallied in response to last week’s shooting about 40 miles (65 kilometers) northwest of Des Moines. Students were joined by parents, activists and Democratic legislators just hours after the 2024 session official began.

Chloe Gayer, a student at Drake University from Ankeny, helped high school students organize the walkout to “send a message” to Iowa lawmakers. The Republican-led Legislature in Iowa loosened gun laws in 2021 by not requiring a permit to purchase a handgun or carry a firearm in public, though it mandates a background check for anyone buying a handgun without a permit.

“In the last few years, we’ve seen Iowa lawmakers gut safety legislation that we have in this state, and we want to show that that’s not acceptable,” Gayer said. “This is not going to be our reality.”

When he heard about gunfire in Perry, high school senior Nick Bales, 18, said was worried about his friends that are students there.

“I don’t think a high school student should have to worry about their friends dying,” said Bales, who lives in Johnston and joined Monday’s rally.

Authorities didn’t offer any new information on the shooting investigation. Local and national FBI officials referred questions to the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation. A spokesman for that agency said it currently has no plans to release additional information.

The 17-year-old student who opened fire on the first day back to school after winter break, Dylan Butler, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Authorities have not revealed a motive for the shooting. Investigators will eventually turn over all physical and online evidence they gather to prosecutors.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds issued a disaster proclamation for Dallas County on Monday to free up state resources for the response to the shooting. Reynolds’ statement indicated the state’s education and health and human services agencies were involved in addition to the Department of Public Safety and its criminal investigation division.

At the start of the legislative session Monday, leaders on both sides of the aisle acknowledged the shooting. In the House chamber, Republican and Democratic leaders agreed that their work this session needs to address Iowa students’ safety in schools.

“One of our main themes is making sure Iowa’s a safe place to live and raise a family,” said House Speaker Pat Grassley. “Unfortunately, the tragic shooting in Perry at a high school just four days ago has reinforced that this is more urgent than ever.”

Grassley identified security in schools and mental health as important factors. He also argued that safety at schools means “ridding our classrooms and school libraries of inappropriate material,” referring to a law a judge has put on hold that would remove books with “sex acts” from school libraries.

Before gaveling in, Iowa Republicans celebrated that policy and others that they passed last year with majority control of the House, Senate and governor’s mansion, including creating publicly funded educational savings accounts to help families pay for private K-12 schools and cutting property taxes.

In July, Iowa lawmakers during a special session passed a ban on abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy, which is on hold as it is reviewed by the state Supreme Court.

In her opening remarks, House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst identified reproductive rights, recreational marijuana and public education as her caucuses’ priorities, along with school safety, saying an idea shouldn’t be discounted in the Republican-controlled chamber just because it’s introduced by Democrats.

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