Tennessee Lawmakers Weigh Gun Education in Schools

(CN) – While the Tennessee Legislature killed a bill this week that would have armed teachers in rural counties, another proposal remains on the table that would direct the state’s board of education to develop standards for a high school-level firearms education course.

According to the House bill’s description, the course, which would be offered to Tennessee high school students as an elective, would “incorporate history, mathematics, and science related to firearms and firearm safety education.”

The measure is set to be taken up by the Tennessee House’s Finance, Ways and Means Subcommittee on Monday.

In considering the bill, Tennessee joins several other states that have looked at similar legislation in recent years. In January, a lawmaker in Idaho introduced a bill to encourage gun safety classes in that states’ schools and a North Carolina legislator did the same last year. Utah and Missouri put gun-safety education bills on their governors’ desks in recent years and they were both signed.

But the bill is also being considered amid a national firearms debate sparked by the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in February, where the alleged shooter was a member of an air rifle marksmanship team at the school.

The recommended standards in the Tennessee bill would come from law enforcement agencies and firearm groups such as the National Rifle Association, which has developed gun-safety programs.

The NRA’s Eddie Eagle GunSafe program teaches children in kindergarten to fourth grade not to touch a firearm if they discover it, but rather stop, run away from it, and tell an adult that they found the gun.

There are currently several amendments to the Tennessee bill. One specifies that whatever firearm education class might be established, live ammunition must not be used during the program. Doing so would reportedly jeopardize the $1.1 billion in funding Tennessee receives for education from the federal government.

Another amendment would alter the bill so it would simply authorize local education agencies “to adopt a gun safety class or program.”

Noting the “numerous yet inconsistent amendments” to the bill to set education standards for firearm education, Tennessee Firearms Association Executive Director John Harris said via email that his organization supports “legally and constitutionally accurate instruction” on the Second Amendment and the Tennessee Constitution when it comes to the right to bear arms.

“Tennessee Firearms Association supports the general idea that children in all levels of school should receive appropriate instruction and training not only on firearms safety, use and ownership but that they should also be offered elective or extracurricular opportunities for programs like the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s hunter safety program and opportunities such as the scholastic shooting programs that some Tennessee schools already offer,” Harris wrote.

Meanwhile, Beth Joslin Roth, policy director of the Safe Tennessee Project, believes the bill is not a good one, with its focus on the history and science of firearms in addition to safety.

That kind of instruction, she said, encourages firearm ownership, and familiarity with guns leads to accident.

Instead, Roth said schools should boost their suicide-prevention training for teachers, school administrators and students.

“Kids who are comfortable with guns, who are allowed to handle them regularly will sometimes be careless,” Roth wrote in an email. “There is no one size fits all approach to this issue and every child is different. We feel that this training should be done at home, not at school.”

The bill was not a priority for the Safe Tennessee Project, which has been tracking 45 pieces of firearm legislation this year.

The sponsor of the bill, Representative Dawn White, a Republican who represents Murfreesboro, said the bill was about safety while speaking before the Tennessee House Education Instructions and Programs Subcommittee in March.

“Again, we’re just trying to keep children safe and teach safety and that’s my intent,” White said.

The lawmaker did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

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