A Republican bill that would require a National Rifle Association gun safety course for Arizona middle- and high school students passed out of committee Monday evening.
The measure would require all Arizona schools to teach students about firearms safety at least once between sixth grade and the end of high school.
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House Bill 2448 by Rep. Quang Nguyen, R-Prescott Valley, would require schools to participate in the Arizona Gun Safety Program which Nguyen said would help prevent accidental gun deaths in children. The bill requires instruction only on gun safety, and the legislation prevents instruction that would teach children how to fire guns or hunt.
“This bill is not about bringing firearms into school,” Nguyen told the House Military Affairs and Public Safety Committee. Nguyen works as a volunteer coach for the Arizona Scorpions Junior High-Power Rifle team and also serves as President of the Arizona State Rifle and Pistol Association.
Although Nguyen insisted that no NRA material would be distributed to students, that’s not correct. He acknowledged that the bill was designed to require schools to use the “Eddie Eagle” gun safety program. The NRA created “Eddie Eagle,” an animated anthropomorphic eagle who teaches gun safety alongside his “wing team,” in 1988. Its use is mandated in schools in North Carolina and Oregon.
The “Eddie Eagle” instruction is designed for younger children — generally between preschool and third grade.
The program was deemed largely ineffective in real-world scenarios by the American Academy of Pediatrics and some critics have argued that the program is an attempt to “lure” kids towards gun culture.
A report by gun violence prevention group the Violence Policy Center points out that the program itself actually came into creation in Florida in reaction to legislation that would have subjected parents to penalties if they store a firearm in a manner that led to a child’s death or injury.
Since the program’s inception, it has seen a rapid decline in the number of children it has seen utilizing it.
Opt-in vs Opt-out
The major debate on the bill was about whether it would be opt-in or opt-out. As the bill is currently written, all students would have to take it unless their parents removed them from the class.
Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson, proposed an amendment that would have allowed for students to opt-in to the program instead.
Ngyuen said he was against the amendment, adding that the education needed to be “enforced” as it is a “safety” issue for students.
“This doesn’t seem like an outlier to ask for this sort of thing to be added,” Hernandez said, adding that Republicans have pushed a slew of “parental rights” bills in 2022 aimed at letting opt-in to what their children are being taught. Gun safety, he said, should not be any different.
That argument didn’t fly with the committee’s Republicans, who rejected the amendment.
“I can’t think of any parent in their right mind that wouldn’t want this,” Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said. “I would forward the name and address of the parent to child protective services if they opted out of this.”
Ngyuen argued that it is important for all students to learn the importance of safety around firearms, as the number of accidental deaths related to firearms is already too high. During the pandemic, accidental discharge of firearm deaths by children jumped up by 31%.
The bill itself passed along party lines and will next head to the full House for a vote.
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