TOPEKA — House committee members on Tuesday weighed a bill that would mandate certain curriculum for schools offering gun safety courses, including lessons created by the National Rifle Association.
Schools already are permitted to teach gun safety, and the bill wouldn't require they provide it. House bill 2460 would require schools offering training for children in kindergarten through eighth grade to use the NRA's "Eddie Eagle Gunsafe" program. High schools offering training would have to use the state's hunter safety program offered by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.
Most legislators supported providing children with gun safety training, but some argued mandating a particular curriculum course would represent an overreach by state government into decisions that should be made by local school boards. Rep. John Whitmer, a Wichita Republican and proponent of past pro-firearm legislation, brought the bill.
Whitmer said he hoped the Eddie Eagle and hunter safety courses would reduce the risk of firearm injuries among children.
"For lack of a better term, let's arm kids with the knowledge of what to do if they encounter a firearm, and this is such a simple program: 'Stop, don't touch, run away and tell an adult,' " Whitmer said, quoting the instructions the "Eddie Eagle Gunsafe" program gives children about what to do if they see a gun.
The bill was backed by the NRA, the Kansas State Rifle Association and the Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.
Travis Couture-Lovelady, a liaison for the NRA and a former state representative, said the NRA began the gun safety program in 1988. It was developed by a task force made up of educators, school administrators, curriculum specialists, urban housing safety officials, clinical psychologists, law enforcement officers and NRA firearm safety officials.
"The idea behind it is that we talk to children about stranger danger, internet safety, fire drills — a number of different dangers they need to be education about that they come across in life, so why not gun safety?" Couture-Lovelady said.
Rep. Blake Carpenter, a Derby Republican, asked whether the training should be mandatory, but Whitmer said he didn't support an unfunded mandate.
Fairway Republican Rep. Melissa Rooker said she supported the idea of training children but would have to determine what kind of policy she would find appropriate because of concerns about the mandated curriculum. She said she appreciated what she had learned about the NRA's program, such as instructing children to alert an adult if they see a firearm.
"Who can be against that?" Rooker said. "I'm going to watch the video and essentially take the program for myself and see what it's all about. This is my first experience with it."
The Kansas Association of School Boards argued the curriculum mandate reached into decisions that should be made by local school boards.
"Our opposition certainly isn't about gun training or safety training," said KASB government relations specialist Rob Gilligan. "As many of our conferees testified before, gun and safety training already occurs in Kansas schools."
The Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism offers courses at 63 middle and high schools.
Gilligan asked that the bill be amended to eliminate the curriculum mandate and clarify a provision that requires schools that choose to participate to offer all their students an opportunity to take the training. Gilligan expressed concern a school could be found in violation of the law if the training didn't fit into a middle school or high school student's schedule.
Rep. Louis Ruiz, a Kansas City Democrat, said he thought the bill was an "overreach."
"Schools that see a need for this type of education — they're the ones that should implement it," Ruiz said. "It shouldn't come from us."