Soter: Bringing Gun Courses into Schools Would Be Pure Lunacy


Justin Prather

(Photo by Justin Prather | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Theadora Soter, Multimedia Managing Editor


I believe all social justice problems could be solved by good education. That’s why I worked as a peer educator for Planned Parenthood for three years. Unfortunately, though, teaching sex education wasn’t the transformative experience I had expected. Instead of changing lives through inclusive, comprehensive and raw conversations, I left each class astonished and saddened by the questions I couldn’t answer and the topics I couldn’t cover because of the abstinence-based curriculum set in place by Utah’s conservative legislature — or rather, Utah’s selectively conservative legislature. “Conservative” feels like the wrong word to describe their ridiculously permissive, comically hypocritical and flat-out dangerous stance on firearm education in schools. That stance was confirmed by lawmakers’ recent overwhelming support of H.B. 258, also known as “Firearm Safety in Schools.”

The bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Rex P. Shipp, would fund a pilot program in which selected school districts would offer an optional course in firearm safety that would last one semester and earn students a half credit in physical education. This course would be taught in high school settings using replica guns. H.B. 258 has already passed a House Committee 6-3.

That’s a big problem. Barbara Gentry, a board member of the Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah, said in an email interview, “H.B. 258 is a political and financial support vehicle for promoting the use of guns. H.B. 258 will provide taxpayer dollars to support training for an activity that is already heavily supported by corporate interests and gun rights groups.” She’s right. The economic influx the gun industry will experience if this bill passes is undeniable, and second amendment-loving lawmakers like Shipp know that. No matter your opinion on the gun debate, you must recognize that the Utah legislature is taking advantage of both taxpayers and students by trying to get this bill passed. It’s unethical and wildly concerning.

The gun safety course created by H.B. 258 would touch on suicide prevention — but it could also perpetuate gun violence by sending the message that teenagers should be allowed to use these deadly weapons. Shipp said in the Deseret News, “It also has suicide prevention involved in there because if somebody comes upon a firearm not understanding how to safely handle it, that could create a problem with potentially having accidents and so forth.” But this explanation, like the language of H.B. 258, provides no clarification as to how the course would prevent suicide. If anything, it would facilitate it in a state with already-high rates of mental illness and suicide among minors.

Furthermore, the bill appoints gun experts without teaching licenses as the educators of the course. Gentry wrote of this point, “At the first hearing for this bill, it was suggested that local gun range instructors could teach the course. If there is a demand for a course to get a gun permit, why does the private sector not step up and provide this service?” Schools are not the right setting for firearm safety courses — especially given the gun violence America sees so often in schools.

In an interview with the co-directors of March for our Lives Utah, Tory Peters and Katie Kern, they echoed Gentry’s sentiments. Kern said, “[This bill] is pretty ironic and quite scary. I understand maybe adult use, that’s different, but for kids, it’s just — wow.” Peters added, “There’s a lot of worry around drills about shootings because of the trauma that they can cause students and that fear, and it’s widely accepted that they’re not great for students because of that fear. I think that teaching students how to use guns and having that be something that their fellow students know is going to perpetuate that fear. It’s not conducive to a learning environment, especially when these students can learn about how to use a gun outside of school. School should be a place for learning more academic subjects.”

Kern and Peters had several ideas, though, for legislation that could benefit students, like providing more counselors for students in public schools or having a mental health class for students. Peters said, “If there is going to be a class teaching students how to use guns, there should be a class about mental health. Or maybe this class should be about mental health and how guns relate to it.”

Gentry agreed that there are much more productive changes that lawmakers can and should facilitate to mitigate gun violence among Utah minors. Instead of passing H.B. 258, Gentry wrote, “Legislators should be putting into effect these laws: Universal background checks which close the gun show loophole that allows anyone to buy a gun without a background check, ERPO (extreme risk protective order) which allows concerned individuals to follow a legal process to remove guns from individuals exhibiting unstable behaviors that put themselves or others at risk, and safe storage bills that provide information and gun locks for those that have unsecured guns.”

I do believe that firearm safety, just like safe sex practices, is important to know. But it shouldn’t be taught as a way to encourage students to use guns. Instead, Utah schools should teach teenagers about the devastating impact guns can have if not used wisely — and state leaders should use other strategies to protect students from gun violence, self-inflicted or otherwise.


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