‘A militia of toddlers?’ Iowa bill to let children use handguns divides even 2nd Amendment supporters

Nathan Gibson helps his daughter Natalie practice shooting.

Earlier this week a polarizing Iowa bill that would let children use handguns passed through the state’s House of Representatives and is on its way to its Senate.

The Youth Safety & Parental Rights Act (House File 2281), which was among five gun proposals under discussion earlier this week, has been a contentious issue — dividing even supporters of the Second Amendment. If successful, people under the age of 14 would be permitted to handle “a pistol, revolver or the ammunition” in the presence of an adult.

Current law prohibits anyone under 14 to use handguns, and plenty of Iowans want to keep it that way.

Before the Hawkeye State’s House of Representatives passed the bill with a 62-36 vote on Tuesday, several lawmakers provided impassioned pleas to reject the bill in the name of children’s safety.

Democratic Rep. Kirstin Running-Marquardt, who supports the right to bear arms, spoke out against the bill, saying, “We do not need a militia of toddlers.”

“In the state of Iowa, we have so many other issues that are priorities, such as adequately funding our public schools, jobs, smart economic growth. For this bill to make it to the floor in a priority manner really disturbs me,” Running-Marquardt said in an interview with Yahoo News. “This should not be the priority of the state of Iowa moving forward. I think we can do much better than that.”

Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst meets with Meredith and Natalie and Gibson.
Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst meets with Meredith and Natalie and Gibson.

Running-Marquardt worked in a gun store for about five years and said she understands that families would like to take their kids hunting for bonding, but said handguns are simply inappropriate for very young children and don’t even fit their hands.

Regarding “parental rights,” Running-Marquardt noted that there many things children in Iowa are not allowed to do: They cannot drive under 14 (even with parental supervision) or be employed under 10.

“You have to balance the rights of the children with their life and safety when we’re looking at a bill like this,” she said. “It crossed the line, having 2- or 3-year-olds being able to shoot handguns.”

Nathan Gibson, a hunter, has been lobbying for the bill on behalf of his daughters, Natalie and Meredith, 12 and 10, who share his passion for shooting as a sport.

Several years ago, he had taken his girls to their local gun range to shoot handguns as he had since they were 5, according to Gibson. But the range master, who had seen them regularly, informed them that they could no longer shoot because of a little-known Civil War-era law that prohibited children from using handguns.

So Gibson called his legislator, Republican Rep. Jake Highfill, to confirm that this law was in Iowa code and urged him to change it.

Nathan Gibson (top-right) brings his daughters Natalie and Meredith to meet with Iowa Rep. Matt Windschitl.
Nathan Gibson (top-right) brings his daughters Natalie and Meredith to meet with Iowa Rep. Matt Windschitl.

“What better way to teach my daughters about our democratic republic than to actually get them involved in something they are passionate about?” Gibson said in an interview with Yahoo News.

The bill, he said, would allow Natalie and Meredith to participate in youth events with the Scholastic Shooting Sports Foundation. For 3-gun competitions, participants are scored based on their skills with rifles, shotguns and pistols.

“This is literally about youth scholastic shooting, which leads to eventually, potentially as a father could hope, an Olympic gold medal, scholarships, things like that,” Gibson said to Yahoo News. “It’s about my daughters’ sport.”

But Running-Marquardt said the bill is so poorly worded that it does not specify an age at which children could use handguns or make exceptions for children training for competitions.

The National Rifle Association strongly supports the bill and has been encouraging its supporters to contact senators in the Iowa legislature to support it.

Highfill, who proposed the bill, did not respond to a request for comment from Yahoo News.