By Ian Richardson, Des Moines Register
Gov. Kim Reynolds said Wednesday that Iowa should focus on its education system — rather than change gun laws — in the aftermath of a March 7 shooting at East High School in Des Moines that killed one teenager and wounded two others.
“I think the tragedy is our system — our educational system — is letting these kids down,” she said. “They should have been in school. We should be figuring out resources to help them stay there and to help them get an education and a life where they can take care of themselves and their families.”
Reynolds, a Republican, made her comments to reporters after calls from some Democratic legislators, pastors and gun safety advocates on Tuesday to tighten Iowa gun laws. Reynolds responded Wednesday Iowa already has gun laws, and the guns used in the shooting had not been accessed legally.
The shooting, which occurred outside East High School in Des Moines, killed one 15-year-old boy, Jose Lopez-Perez, and left two girls, ages 16 and 18, in critical condition. Lopez-Perez was not a student at the school but the two girls were, police said.
Police have arrested six teenagers aged 14 to 17 in connection with the incident on charges of first-degree murder and attempted murder.
Sgt. Paul Parizek, a spokesperson for the Des Moines Police Department, said Lopez-Perez was the target of the shooting and the two girls were not.
Reynolds, who had previously released a statement the day after the shooting in support of the families involved, said Wednesday the situation was “heartbreaking.”
“I think that’s where we need to focus: Let’s figure out how we get these kids in school,” Reynolds said. “Get them the education that they need and set them up to be successful, not set them up for, you know, jail or life of crime. And so that’s where we’re going to continue to focus. We have laws on the books right now for guns.”
Reynolds’ Wednesday comments drew swift criticism from House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, who said Reynolds is “using this tragedy to vilify teachers and drive Iowans apart.”
“Even in the face of a tragic school shooting, Governor Reynolds refuses to stop playing politics,” Konfrst said. “Her recent comments placing blame on public schools for the high school shooting last week are reprehensible.”
Steven Schappaugh, principal of Des Moines’ Roosevelt High School, tweeted that the governor is “blaming the educational system for a tragedy.”
“Her party controls funding and resources from state for the educational system … so is she blaming her party?” he wrote.
On Tuesday, a group of Iowa Democrats joined some advocates of stricter gun laws to urge legislation, such as creation of universal background checks, after the incident. President Joe Biden, a Democrat, had also released a statement last week supporting the family of the victims and decrying gun violence.
Ian Richardson covers the Iowa Statehouse for the Des Moines Register. Reach him at [email protected], at 515-284-8254, or on Twitter at @DMRIanR.