Should Public Schools Teach Kids How to Handle Guns?

In Maine, a proposed bill would require high schools to offer gun-safety courses to students.

Suzi Parker is a journalist whose work also appears in The Christian Science Monitor and Reuters.

Reading, writing and reloading?

That might be the case in Maine, where a proposed bill would require high schools to offer optional firearms training courses for students.

Republican state Rep. Paul Davis, a former state trooper, has stressed to local media that his legislation is not in response to the Newtown tragedy. Rather, he says he sees more teenagers who don’t understand how to handle firearms.

“I’m not asking you to have teachers armed, and I’m not asking that signs saying gun-free zones be removed. I’m not asking for any of that,” Davis told local media. “I only want the children and the students to have a chance to learn about guns and how they work as well as how to be safe with them.”

Proponents point to Maine’s hunting culture as a reason for the classes.

As President Obama pushes his ambitious gun-control plan in Washington, state houses across the country are also focusing their debates on guns. Numerous states have already introduced legislation to allow faculty to carry concealed weapons on college campuses. Other states are proposing legislation to allow teachers, if trained, to carry concealed weapons in K-12 schools.

Maine isn’t alone in its push for gun-safety classes. Texas, South Carolina and Washington have legislation pending that would teach students firearm safety, training and history. Some supporters of such legislation cite one-third of all American households have guns. Therefore, safety lessons are needed.

Others, like Texas Republican state Rep. James White, want students to learn about the Second Amendment.

He wrote on his website, “The origins of liberty in our great nation reside in large part with the idea espoused in the Second Amendment,” said Representative White. “As a conservative, I want Texas students to have the option to learn more about both this critical part of our Constitution, and the practical knowledge of how to safely operate the common arms Texans use for hunting and self-defense.”

His bill would give local school districts the power to decide whether to teach gun-safety classes or not.

A pending bill in the Missouri legislature would require a gun-safety class to be taught in first grade.

The bill states: “Each school district and charter school must annually teach the Eddie Eagle Gunsafe Program to first grade students, or use a substantially similar or successor program of the same qualifications. The purpose of the program will be to promote safety and protection of children and emphasize how students should respond if they encounter a firearm. School personnel and program instructors must not make value judgments about firearms.”

In recent years, other states and various local school districts across the country have passed legislation requiring such classes, which use the NRA mascot, Eddie Eagle.

In 2010 Virginia passed legislation that required Virginia’s education department to create a gun-safety curriculum for public elementary schools using guidelines from the NRA. After the law was passed, the Virginia PTA stated that it supported gun-safety education and that local school districts should select materials suited for their students. They also supported using the popular McGruff the Crimefighting Dog in teaching materials, but the state’s governor disagreed.

The NRA Eddie Eagle GunSafe program teaches “children in pre-K through third grade four important steps to take if they find a gun,” according to the NRA website. Guns, real or fake, are not used in the teaching curriculum. Still, some believe resources could be better used.

After the Newtown tragedy, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers stated, “Greater access to mental health services, bullying prevention, and meaningful action on gun control—this is where we need to focus our efforts, not on staggeringly misguided ideas about filling our schools with firearms. Lawmakers at every level of government should dismiss this dangerous idea and instead focus on measures that will create the safe and supportive learning environments our children deserve.”

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