One percent of firearm deaths in Utah are the result of negligent discharge, like the 2014 case in Kaysville when a girl found a loaded gun and accidentally shot her older sister. So Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, wants to make sure Utah children know what to do, and not do, when they come across a gun.
“We teach kids how to balance checkbooks in school … what we don’t teach them to do is what to do if they come across a gun,” Weiler told the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee on Wednesday afternoon.
He thinks parents should have the primary responsibility in teaching their kids, but in many cases that’s not happening when it comes to guns. Weiler’s bill, Senate Bill 43, would would create a pilot program to teach children in eighth grade about firearm safety and violence prevention. The state Attorney General’s Office and board of education would work together to select a provider for the materials and curriculum for the program. The pilot program would end July 1, 2019. The pilot program would cost $75,000.
There’s already a law on the books allowing for firearm education in schools, but it’s a volunteer-run program that hasn’t been widely implemented. It aimed to use volunteers and donated materials to teach children in kindergarten through sixth grade about “habits, skills and attitudes necessary for the safe handling of firearms.”
“The idea of teaching something that could save lives, especially at such a small price is worth it.” —Jeremy Roberts, chairman of the Utah Gun Safety Council
Jeremy Roberts, chairman of the Utah Gun Safety Council, said he was instrumental in passing that law, but that it hasn’t happened. The idea was that it would be a robust program but schools have shied away from it. “The idea is to scale back and really focus on stop, don’t touch, tell an adult.”
Roberts said his own son was at a friends house looking for batteries when they came across a revolver in a drawer. His son knew to shut the drawer and call for an adult, but the friend hadn’t been taught that. It turned out that the revolver was ready to fire, with a round in the chamber and the hammer was cocked.
“The idea of teaching something that could save lives, especially at such a small price is worth it,” he said. “The idea is we want kids to be safe.”
Weiler had a similar bill last year, but it passed the Senate and never made it through the House.
He said the major criticism of the bill this year is teaching eighth-graders, because that may be too late.
Rachel Peterson, Utah PTA safety commissioner, said kids have a natural curiosity about guns, and see them on TV and in video games. “If we really want to make a difference we want to start earlier.”
Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Eagle Mountain, said he was concerned that the program was moving from gun safety to gun avoidance, and could perpetuate irrational fears about guns. He’d like guns to be part of the program, so that kids can learn how the parts work together.
The bill passed out of the committee unanimously and now moves on for consideration by the full Senate.