One of Iowa's legislative bodies has passed a bill to allow children to handle handguns.

The state's House of Representatives voted yesterday for a bill that would permit children younger than 14 to possess "a pistol, revolver or the ammunition" under parental supervision.

The bill - which was debated among other gun proposals and is now headed to the Iowa Senate - has been a polarising issue.

"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," State Rep. Kirsten Running-Marquardt (D) said, according to CBS-affiliate KCCI. "We do not need a militia of toddlers."

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The current state law has no restrictions on children using rifles or shotguns under a parent's supervision but prohibits them from using handguns.

State Rep. Jake Highfill (R) said the new bill, which passed 62-36, "brings the code in line with long guns and shotguns" by allowing them to possess a firearm under direct supervision from a parent or legal guardian.

It defines "direct supervision" as "supervision provided by another person who maintains visual and verbal contact at all times with the supervised person".

"Allowing people to learn at a young age the respect that a gun commands is one of the most important things you can do," Highfill told The Washington Post. The alternative, he said, is "turning 18 with no experience."

Highfill said the bill "gives the power back to parents" to decide.

Children cannot, however, purchase a firearm on their own.

Those who opposed the bill expressed safety concerns, bringing up the 9-year-old girl who accidentally killed her shooting range instructor with an Uzi in Arizona.

"Unfortunately, the instructor and the parents made the wrong decision and someone died," state Rep. Mary Mascher (D) said, according to Iowa Public Radio. "Every three hours in this country a child dies from gun violence."

Meredith and Natalie Gibson, who are 12 and 10 years old respectively, told KCCI that they have been shooting since they were 5, under their father's supervision.

"It's only dangerous if you handle it wrong," Natalie told the news station. "You never point a gun at somebody."

The girl's father, who was not named by the station, had been lobbying the state legislature to change the law.

Highfill, the Republican congressman, said the new bill is "something that was needed" in Iowa for a long time.

Parents should have "the power," he said. "I believe this is something the government should not be involved with."