(File photo)

Larry Fisher

CEDAR RAPIDS — In the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting that left 20 children and seven adults dead, polls show public support for stricter gun control at a 10-year high.

Gun rights advocates say, however, they will push the Iowa Legislature to expand gun rights and abolish gun-free zones, including schools.

“The problem we have is there are too many so-called gun-free zones,” said Aaron Dorr of Iowa Gun Owners. “There are way too many areas where law-abiding Iowans are victims of the system because they are not allowed to defend themselves if something happens to them.”

That includes schools, Dorr said. The failure of gun-free schools should be evident in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting, he said.

“Our position is that it is an undue burden to be shot in the back of the head while trying to protect students in your classroom because you are legally prohibited from protecting yourself,” Dorr said.

Iowa Gun Owners is hearing from teachers “crying out to have the option of having a weapon in school because they are scared of being victims,” Dorr said.

“We’d have a problem with that,” Iowa Association of School Boards Executive Director Tom Downs said about the elimination of gun-free schools.

The association also will oppose any attempt to carve out an exemption in the state’s concealed weapons law to allow teachers to have guns at school.

In the days after the Newton shooting, legislative leaders said they thought it was unlikely the Legislature would approve more restrictive gun laws this session.

Public opinion polling is mixed on the issue. A Pew Research Center poll found that by a 49 percent to 42 percent margin Americans think controlling gun ownership is more important than protecting the 2nd Amendment right to own a gun. Gallup found that Americans think other measures — more police in schools, expanded mental health services and decreasing the depiction of gun violence in the media — would be more effective than banning the sale of assault and semi-automatic weapons.

It’s more black and white for John Johnson of Cedar Rapids, the co-director of the Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus and formerly with the now-defunct Iowans for the Prevention of Gun Violence.

Johnson thinks a majority of Americans support gun control, especially in the wake of a string of mass shootings.

“The only demographic opposed is lawmakers,” Johnson said. “They’re basically cowards.”

Not all of them. Rep. Dan Mulbauer, D-Manilla, has called for a ban on assault and semi-automatic weapons and the confiscation of weapons that owners don’t voluntarily give up.

Jeff Burkett of the Iowa Firearms Coalition Inc. doesn’t see Mulbauer’s proposal as a possibility.

“It appears he could use some education,” Burkett said. “It sounds like an emotion-based response to Newtown.”

Johnson agrees it’s unlikely lawmakers will ban assault and semi-automatic weapons, require background checks for all gun ownership transfers or limit the capacity of ammo magazines.

Lawmakers “are basically gutless when it comes to standing up to the gun lobby,” he said.