By STEPHEN KORANDA
Kansas schools that want to offer gun training in the earliest grades would be required to use a program designed by the National Rifle Association, under a bill lawmakers studied this past week.
That legislation would switch programs beyond the eighth grade to hunter education training designed by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.
The bill doesn’t insist on gun training for schoolchildren. Rather, it would dictate which programs public schools could use — first the NRA’s, later the state’s — if they decide to put gun training into their curriculum.
Students eighth grade or younger would receive Eddie Eagle GunSafe training provided by the NRA.
NRA training uses an animated video and worksheets to drive home the message that kids should not touch a gun if they see one and should tell an adult when they stumble on a firearm. (“STOP! … Don’t touch … Run away … Tell a grown-up.”)
Republican Rep. John Whitmer told the Federal and State Affairs Committee on Tuesday that the state should require the NRA curriculum for gun safety because it’s the largest and most common program.
“Guns aren’t going away,” Whitmer said. “Let’s arm kids with the knowledge of what to do if they encounter a firearm. This is such a simple program.”
The Eddie Eagle program has been both lauded and criticized over the years. The NRA, the most powerful gun rights lobby in the country, and other Second Amendment advocates say it’s played an important role in teaching children how to behave safely around firearms. They credit it partly for a dropping number of accidental gun deaths among children.
Critics contend the reduction in those deaths could just as easily be credited to improved emergency medical care techniques and a smaller number of homes with guns. (While the number of guns in the United States has increased in recent years, those firearms tend to be owned by fewer people with larger collections.)
Gun control groups such as the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, argue the NRA-sponsored program provides a false sense of security and has been “found to have no effect on participating children’s behavior around guns.”
One study found that children who went through the Eddie Eagle program learned the basics of gun safety more clearly than kids who didn’t go through the training. But it found that learning often didn’t translate to simulations where they encountered a gun. It also found that other behavioral skills training — being told how to act around guns, watching a trainer model that behavior, and then practicing — was more effective than the NRA program.
No guns are used in the NRA training, but they are shown in the animated video.
Republican Rep. Stephanie Clayton said she was torn over the bill. On one hand, she likes the message of the curriculum. Yet Clayton said she has concerns about mandating that gun training in schools must use these programs.
“Is it my place,” she said, “to tell local of boards of education what they can and cannot teach?”
Rob Gilligan, with the Kansas Association of School Boards, said the group opposes the bill for the same reason.
“It is taking away that right of the districts to set what their curriculum could be,” Gilligan said.
Schools can currently teach gun safety training if they choose, said Gilligan. He said the NRA and state hunting programs are already used in some Kansas schools.
Whitmer said he is opposed to mandating training.
“I want to leave the discretion up to the districts,” Whitmer said. “I felt that leaving it as an optional program was probably the best way to go.”