By Maren McInnes
Capital West News
SALT LAKE CITY — With gun violence, especially school shootings, having received so much media coverage, Utah lawmakers are now hoping to provide solutions through education. SB276, sponsored by Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, would create a pilot program to educate 8th grade students in public schools on firearm safety and violence prevention.
Currently, the Utah state code allows for firearm instruction; however, it has never been implemented. The intent of SB279 would be to help implement a firearm safety program.
The “Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention Pilot Program” would teach students firearm safety, what to do if they become aware of a threat, and prepare them should there be an active shooter. The Office of the Attorney General would collaborate with the Board of Education to select providers, materials, and curriculum for the program.
Jeremy Roberts, chair of the Utah Gun Safety Council explained that the language in the bill is purposefully flexible so schools can teach the curriculum as they see fit. With new video games, students often talk about guns and shooting, but they may not understand the reality of firearms. “The education we will be giving children is simply this: stop, don’t touch, go tell an adult,” Roberts said.
Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs, voiced concern that simply teaching students “don’t touch it, run away” instead of how to properly handle a firearm would reinforce an irrational fear of firearms.
Still, this bill is at least a step in the right direction, Weiler said. There is already so much potential for opposition that Weiler worries anything more than the proposed bill would prevent firearm safety from even happening.
Roberts acknowledged the concern, and he explained that the current code allows for the practical instruction addressed by Madsen, but it has never been implemented. This intent of this bill is to start with “don’t touch the firearm” and move on from there.
A student’s responsibility is not to deal with the firearm, said Sylvia Andersen, a former state representative and advocate for the bill. This program will teach students the proper behavior patterns for dealing with a firearm in a particular situation, namely at school, she said.
According to the bill, the school or student will not be forced into this program, rather, it is entirely opt in. Also, no actual firearms will be used in the classroom. In addition, the UEA has been neutral on the bill, and the PTA anticipates working with the curriculum should the bill pass.
“We are a gun loving state,” Weiler said, and this bill could be a step in the right direction for gun safety at schools.
This bill would be funded with a one-time $75,000 appropriation. The pilot program would sunset July 1, 2018.
SB276 was passed through the Senate and is currently awaiting further action by the House Rules Committee.