The House Judiciary Committee has cleared a bill that would give high school students in Utah the opportunity to take firearms classes.
House Bill 258 passed by 6-3 when Rep. Rex Shipp presented it to the House committee on Tuesday, February 16. Now that it has been cleared by the House, it will move to the full House of Representatives.
The bill will need to pass both there and the Senate before March 5, when the legislative session ends, in order to go ahead.
Shipp’s proposal comes in the wake of a recently passed law that allows Utah residents to carry a concealed weapon without a permit. With that in mind, Shipp believes it is important to train students on firearms and ‘help people feel safe around guns,’ KUTV News reports.
Addressing the House committee, Shipp commented: ‘I think it’s important that our school kids have an opportunity to learn about firearm safety.’
If the bill passes in the Senate, it would create a pilot program for three years in three Utah school districts. The optional firearm course would last half a semester, and parental consent would be required to allow students to take part.
During the course, students would be taught about firearm safety and suicide prevention as well as topics such as how to use guns, marksmanship, and accuracy.
Shipp noted that he participated in a hunting safety program and started hunting at 12 years old, according to Deseret News, adding: ‘If you haven’t grown up in a family that does hunting or shooting, you don’t learn proper safety of firearms and many times these kids run into firearms – whether they’re at a friend’s home or wherever they are.’
Lessons would involve going to ‘either an indoor or outdoor range,’ Shipp said, where there would be a certified instructor to help teach the students.
So far, two school districts in southern Utah are said to have expressed interest in participating in the pilot program, and pro-gun supporters have been quick to express support for the idea.
Speaking to KUTV News, Utah resident Ryan Johnson commented: ‘Hopefully, they’ll have that respect for that weapon and be able to avoid a catastrophe’
Brian Peterson, who was target shooting with Johnson on the day the bill passed the House committee, added: ‘The more opportunity we have to have responsible people training them and teaching them that respect, I think, the better.’
However, the bill was met with backlash from Terri Gilfillan of the Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah, who believes a high school course on firearms is misplaced.
Gilfillan likened the course to ‘training an 11-year-old to drive a car and expecting them to remember that when they’re 17, behind the wheel.’
The critic also voiced concerns about liability for schools and adding to teachers’ workloads, saying that Shipp’s bill is ‘an example of dumping society’s problems that our already burdened teachers have to deal with.’
Sara Jones, with the Utah Education Association, believes the issue of gun safety should be dealt with at the local level, rather than through the Legislature. She also questioned whether the best time to start the pilot program is in the midst of a pandemic, when schools and teachers are already under extra pressure.
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