ANNAPOLIS – Maryland students in grades seven through 12 could learn how to handle firearms as part of their school curriculum, under a proposal passed Thursday in the House of Delegates.
The gun safety education mandate, which passed the House 98-33, would also require that students in kindergarten through sixth grade get gun safety instruction in school, but that they not be shown weapons. Shooting-range instruction would just be one option for older students, in addition to classroom programs.
“Gun safety is enough of a problem that it needs to be addressed,” said Delegate James W. Campbell, D-Baltimore County, who fended off several attempts to kill the bill during floor debate Wednesday and Thursday. “We always hope that education helps kids make better choices.”
The House bill differs slightly from a bill that overwhelmingly passed the Senate, which did not differentiate between gun-safety programs for upper and lower grades. But Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, D-Baltimore, the lead sponsor of the measure, said she could accept the House version of the bill, and aides to Gov. Parris N. Glendening said he will sign it if it wins final approval before the end of the legislative session next week.
The proposal to require gun safety education was sparked by the 1998 shooting death of John Joseph Price, a Carroll County 13-year-old who was accidentally shot in the head by a 9-year-old who was playing with a gun.
The Senate passed its version of the bill in February. But the measure almost died last month, when the National Rifle Association’s “Eddie Eagle” program was removed from the list of safety programs schools could use. Eddie Eagle is oriented to younger students, and teaches them to stop if they see a gun, stay away from it and get an adult.
The measure was referred back to the House Ways and Means Committee, which revived the measure after restoring the Eddie Eagle program to the options available to local school districts.
“It’s the only program that’s unbiased,” said NRA lobbyist Gregory Costa of the Eddie Eagle program. “It was a big win for the NRA.”
Eddie Eagle will have a “great impact on urban areas where this is needed the most,” said Delegate Carmen Amedori, R-Carroll.
The bill also lets schools take older students to shooting ranges. Amedori said it is unlikely that schools from urban areas would do so, but that shooting range instruction could be useful in rural areas, where hunting is prevalent.
Opponents charge that mandatory gun-safety instruction undermines the authority of local school boards, and that there is no funding in the state budget to help schools implement the new program.
“We don’t like when the General Assembly mandates curriculum on any topic,” said Eric B. Schwartz, lobbyist for the Maryland Association of Boards of Education.
Opponents tried to kill the bill Wednesday by introducing several unsuccessful amendments, including one that would mandate schools to teach students crosswalk safety.
“We ought to let the boards of education be the boards of education,” said Delegate Dana Lee Dembrow, D-Montgomery, who opposed the program.
But Amedori said some programs, including the NRA’s, would cost nothing to the schools because of the grants they offer.
“We did it in alcohol abuse and drug abuse,” Campbell said. “We’re saying now that guns are a problem.”