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Senate adopts bill urging Kansas public schools to offer NRA gun safety curriculum in grades K-8

TOPEKA – Senator John Doll voted with a heavy heart for a Kansas Senate bill requiring the state Board of Education to pass gun safety curriculum standards tied to an initiative by the National Rifle Association and the hunter education program of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.

He cherished the memories of when his father taught him to shoot and believed that gun safety should be part of the parent-child bond. He pointed with regret to the statistics collected over the years on school shootings in the United States. One account listed 366 from the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado on April 20, 1999. This National Horror Registry included the deaths of 26 people in Connecticut at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012.

There were 42 U.S. school shootings in 2021 and 46 last year, more than any year since Columbine.

“I like to read,” said Doll, a Garden City Republican. “One of the hardest books I ever had to read was ‘Sandy Hook.’ I had to put him down and cry about three times. He just killed me.

Doll said he feared Senate Bill 116 — passed 30-8 by the Senate and passed in the House — would increase political pressure on local school boards to offer prescribed gun safety instruction and help blame educators for the tragedies in public schools involving gun violence.

“What I fear will happen, if school shootings continue to happen, is that we will pin it on the schools,” Doll said.

Eddie Eagle flies high

Sen. Chase Blasi, the Wichita Republican who brought his first bill on the Senate floor on Thursday, said he was taught to shoot by his father, but many Kansas kids haven’t had an equivalent opportunity to learn how to unload firearms or what to do with an unprotected firearm. He said the reality was Kansas’s need for standardized curriculum standards in gun safety and he argued for reliance on established programs sponsored by the NRA and the state wildlife agency.

Under the bill, the State Board of Education would be charged with adopting curriculum guidelines—constitutional questions about that mandate have not been resolved—and local school boards would be left with the decision whether to offer the curriculum. to the students. The NRA “Eddie Eagle” cartoon version of gun safety instruction would be available to K-8 students, while the state park training regimen could be used by students in grades 6-12. At least two organizations supporting the Senate bill said it was an opportunity to commercialize gun or hunting culture to a new generation.

“Local school districts can provide these programs,” Blasi said. “This legislation does not require local school districts to provide safety education classes.”

The legislature adopted a similar bill in 2021, vetoed by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly. She opposed the curriculum-trampling legislative authority held by the state Board of Education under the Kansas constitution. He characterized past actions by the House and Senate to implement a gun safety curriculum as a “legislative effort.”

Senator Cindy Holscher, an Overland Park Democrat, had her colleagues block three amendments to the Senate gun bill. The first of hers would make it into state law that no one giving firearms instruction could bring a gun into a school. Blasi said the addition of that language was unnecessary and she was defeated 12-25.

“We don’t want any confusion for firearms instructors affiliated with this program to think that because of this they are allowed to carry firearms,” ​​Holscher said.

Another of Holscher’s amendments would create misdemeanor firearms storage, but it was overruled by the Senate. His final amendment, rejected in an unregistered vote, would have prohibited instructional materials used in the gun safety curriculum from linking to information about the National Rifle Association, including the organization’s request to join, donate, or learn about political positions and the approval of candidates by the ANR.

“Is this really about security or cultivating a new market?” Holscher said.

The golden bullet?

Sen. Mike Thompson, R-Shawnee, said a “clean” bill should pass the Senate without amendments, arguing changes could potentially weaken the legislation. He has spoken out against Holscher’s attempt to derail the NRA’s “gold standard” program on firearms safety education.

“This is the gold standard,” Thompson said. “Why shouldn’t we want this in our schools? This is a good program. I stand behind the bill as written.

Holscher said claims about the excellence of the NRA curriculum were misleading. He said a 2004 study of 2,000 children who completed the NRA program showed two-thirds of those tested picked up a gun, one-third pulled the trigger, and one child who informed a teacher he found a gun he was teased by peers.

The NRA-branded Eddie Eagle program was designed to get students who encounter an unattended gun to stop, don’t touch, run, and tell an adult. The NRA advertised Eddie Eagle as suitable for kindergarten through fourth grade, but the Kansas bill required Eddie Eagle to work for students through eighth grade.

Senate Democratic Leader Dinah Sykes D-Lenexa has offered an amendment to require parents to receive a notice from the school of gun safety education four months in advance. She also wanted parents to state through an opt-in process that they wanted their children to have firearm safety training in school. A similar opt-in approach has been approved by lawmakers for participation in national student opinion polls, she said.

His amendment notification was rejected 8-27 after Senate Speaker Ty Masterson R-Andover said Sykes’ proposal singled out a particular curriculum topic for discrimination.

Senator Usha Reddi, a Democrat from Manhattan, voted against the bill. He said Kansas was among the states that did not require firearm buyers to complete a gun safety course. Kansas’s “constitutional carry” law allowed adults to carry concealed weapons without taking gun education class.

“Schools and children are not the problem here,” Reddi said. “It’s not them who need to be trained. We live in a state that doesn’t require adults who buy guns to be trained.”

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