There is no doubt that classes in gun safety would be useful, particularly for would-be gun owners or users. But efforts to mandate gun education for everybody as part of the public school curriculum put the focus in the wrong place.
Undaunted by the defeat of such a measure in the 1994 Utah Legislature, gun lobbyists are once again pushing for mandatory gun classes. A bill to that effect is expected to be introduced in the 1996 session.Ironically, the Utah Shooting Sports Council, one of the backers of the gun education proposal, last year lobbied against a measure requiring juveniles to complete a three-hour gun safety course before they could carry or discharge a gun. The bill subsequently failed to pass.
Why oppose gun education for those who actually are going to carry or shoot a gun and then turn around and back a measure requiring such classes for all youngsters, many of whom would never own or pick up a gun in their lives?
There are several things wrong with mandating gun education classes in the public schools:
First, the Legislature should not get into the business of mandating specific items in the school curriculum, particularly one with such emotional pros and cons as guns. Many parents would vehemently oppose having their children in a gun class, particularly if it involved familiarization and handling of real guns - a possibility mentioned by the backers.
Second, there is a tendency to load all of society's problems on the schools, everything from lack of an adequate breakfast to parenting skills to driving a car. All kinds of good causes that have nothing to do with academics are promoted because the schools offer a handy captive audience. Teachers sometimes complain that they are not left with enough time to teach.
Third, the school curriculum already is overloaded. The school day is not elastic; the time limits and number of class periods are fixed. It is a challenge for many students to take all the required courses to graduate. Yet the backers of the gun education idea envision classes starting in elementary school and stretching into high school.
Fourth, the questions of who would teach such classes and who would pay the cost are not easy to answer. Some schools already suffer from not enough financing for such basic items as textbooks.
In the 1994 legislature, a bill was passed that said schools "may" offer gun safety courses. That seems good enough. Lawmakers should avoid going any further.