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State senator proposes to create gun safety program for Utah schools

SALT LAKE CITY — At a neighbor's house, Jeremy Roberts' 8-year-old son and his friend found a loaded revolver in a drawer while looking for batteries to a video game controller.

The friend reached for the gun, but Roberts' son slapped his hand and told him not touch it and to get his mother.

"I was so very thankful that my kid had been taught how to be safe with guns," said Roberts, of the Utah Gun Safety Council. "The unfortunate part was my neighbor's child wasn't."

Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said parents have the responsibility to talk to their children about guns. But because that doesn't always happen, he's proposing an optional school program to teach eighth-graders firearm safety and violence prevention.

"For good or bad, we teach kids how to balance checkbooks in school. We teach them some sex education in school. We teach them a lot of things in school," he said. "What we don't teach them is what to do if they happen across a gun."

Weiler's bill, SB43, would budget $75,000 to develop a pilot program that could be taught at a school assembly. Guns would not be used as part of the instruction. School districts and schools would decide whether to offer the training, and parents would decide whether their children attend.

The Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee unanimously moved the bill to the Senate floor Wednesday.

Weiler said a state school official suggested to him that the money could be used to make a video for schools to use or even for parents to show in the home.

Utah PTA safety commissioner Rachel Peterson said teaching kids about guns in junior high school might too late.

"If we really want to make a difference, we need to start earlier," she said. Asked what grade she would recommend, Peterson said, "First."

Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs, said he's concerned that training is moving away from gun safety to gun avoidance. He said his children know how to check the chamber, load and unload, and clean a gun before eighth grade.

"I don't want to see this turn into something where we're just perpetuating irrational fears," he said. "I would hate it to turn into a DARE-type of situation where it's just brainwashing, it's just propaganda."

Madsen said the training should include how to handle a gun, unless it teaches them to "just be afraid and run away."

"I think our kids probably deserve a little bit more," he said.

Weiler said he's open to changing the bill to make sure the presentation doesn't have a negative connotation toward guns.

Email: romboy@deseretnews.com

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