As a sport shooter and hunter, Iowan Nathan Gibson was delighted when his two daughters, Meredith and Natalie -- ages 12 and 10 -- took up shooting as a passion and a sport.
But when a little-known law that bans kids from using handguns was used to stop them from shooting at a local gun range, that came to an end.
Now, Gibson and his daughters have notched a legislative victory at the state Capitol in a push to change that -- as a bill advances that would allow children to use handguns.
The bill, which would allow children under 14 to handle pistols and revolvers under parental supervision, passed the Iowa House of Representatives on Tuesday, though it has triggered an intense debate in the state about the proper balance between gun rights and basic child safety.
Gibson, who supports the measure, says his daughters are delighted as the bill they have advocated for brings them one step closer to being able to resume practicing their sport.
"They’re feeling ecstatic, they’re on Cloud 9,” Gibson told FoxNews.com, noting that his girls have been at the legislature every week lobbying lawmakers. “It’s a lot of work to do for two little girls.”
The bill, which now goes to the state Senate, has formed part of the wider debate over the extent to which Second Amendment rights should be regulated in the name of safety.
The National Rifle Association supports the bill, while Iowa gun safety groups have been vocal in their opposition, with some pointing to cases where children have accidentally shot parents or instructors.
“I think children do not have the necessary judgment about using guns and I don’t think they are old enough to understand the consequences,” Iowans for Gun Safety's Executive Director Jeremy Brigham told FoxNews.com.
“Our concern is that the bill doesn’t stipulate where the gun can be used. I’d rather stick with the long guns and have them be supervised on shootings ranges, not simply wherever the parent thinks it’s suitable,” he said.
Democrats slammed the bill, fearing it allows toddlers to wield firearms.
"What this bill does, the bill before us, allows for 1-year-olds, 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds, 4-year-olds to operate handguns,” Democratic Rep. Kirstin Running-Marquardt told KCCI Des Moines. “We do not need a militia of toddlers.”
Republicans backing the bill called the rhetoric overblown.
“That’s over the top. It’s a soundbite that they’re trying to use and deflect form the actual issue,” Rep. Gary Worthan told FoxNews.com. “This bill gives a responsible parent the option to teach their children firearm safety and not be subject to a misdemeanor.”
Gibson also dismissed the fears.
“A solid good parent is not going to put a gun in the hands of a 1,2,3 year-old and a parent who is, isn’t going to pay attention to the law anyway,” he said.
While the Gibsons have notched a major victory, the road ahead may be difficult. Rep. Worthan believes the chance of the bill getting through the Senate is a coin-toss.
“I would say it has about a 50/50 chance of getting through the Senate, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it comes back with a lowering of the maximum age,” he said, adding that Second Amendment bills are frequently a problem getting through the Senate Judiciary.
Brigham agreed, saying that the Senate's Democratic Majority Leader has indicated he may not even bring it up for a vote, and that there’s a majority in the chamber who will oppose the bill.
Gibson says the political wrangling is preventing the girls from becoming good at a sport from which a collegiate scholarship could arise.
“They’re getting frustrated and it breaks a father’s heart,” Gibson said. “But I’m so proud of them for what they’re doing.”