ST. GEORGE — A bill that would pave the way for high school students to take a gun safety course at school successfully cleared the Utah House on Friday afternoon and now moves to the state Senate.
Firearm Safety in Schools, designated as HB 258 in the 2021 Legislature and sponsored by Rep. Rex Shipp, R-Cedar City, creates a three-year pilot program whereby students at the schools that are testing the program would be able to take a one-semester class by a qualified instructor and receive a semester hour of elective credit.
The bill’s language states that no working firearms will be allowed to be used in classrooms nor on school property, even for illustrative purposes. Instead, inert facsimiles will be used.
When students are ready to pass off the shooting portion of the class, that will be done off campus at a dedicated firing range under the supervision of a qualified instructor.
Shipp told St. George News he envisioned the legislation with the safety of children and youth in mind.
“Kids need to learn to handle guns,” he said. “Kids that are in hunting families, they’ll take hunter safety, and they’re taught by their parents, but that’s not as prevalent as it used to be.”
Shipp said another issue is when children run into firearms in a casual situation, adding that he believes education is a better solution than stricter gun control measures.
“Our kids are very social. They go to friends’ homes, they hang out together. … If they run into firearms, they’re curious, and they need to know how to safely handle them,” he said. “We’ve got to teach these kids how to be safe, so they can go home and tell their parents, ‘Hey, I’m taking this class and you need to lock your guns up or make sure they’re in a safe place.’ We just need more education.”
Shipp said the program will cover basic gun safety, marksmanship, suicide prevention and state laws governing firearms. Parental consent will be required for students to take the course, and it would be available only to students in grades 9-12.
Additionally, if the firearm safety curriculum is approved by the Division of Wildlife Resources, students who complete the course may also receive a hunter safety certificate, according to the language of the bill.
Rep. Brady Brammer, R-Pleasant Grove, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, was among those who spoke Friday in support of the legislation.
“I don’t see this as any more of a mandate than anything else that we’ve had related to our curriculum that we have anywhere,” Brammer said, calling gun ownership a “fundamental right that is ensconced in our Constitution, as the second of the most fundamental rights that we identified from the get-go and has been there from the get-go.”
“And so, to pretend that it’s not going to be there for a long time and that we shouldn’t educate people about how to exercise that right responsibly simply makes no sense,” he said.
Shipp said the Utah State Board of Education may select up to three different school districts or local education agencies statewide to participate in the pilot program.
“Some of the rural school districts that I’ve introduced this to were very excited — the board members and superintendents involved — they were excited to have this opportunity to teach these kids,” Shipp said.
HB 258 passed the House by a vote of 47-21, with seven representatives marked absent or not voting. The legislation received support from all of the Southern Utah representatives, with the exception of Rep. Brad Last, who was among the seven House members who were either absent or didn’t cast a vote.
The measure now moves to the state Senate, where its sponsor is Sen. Jake Anderegg.
For a complete list of contacts for Southern Utah representatives and senators, click here.
Check out all of St. George News’ coverage of the 2021 Utah Legislature here.
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