BOISE — A bill to authorize and encourage school districts to implement school gun safety classes in schools has cleared the Senate Education Committee in a unanimous vote.
Sponsor Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, introduced the bill, which earlier cleared the House by a wide margin, to the Senate Education Committee on Monday. He opened by citing reporting of recent accidental shootings an Alaska and Alabama in which children who found firearms were killed.
Nate noted that about two-thirds of Idaho households have guns in them, well above the national average.
“Even if kids don’t have guns in their homes, there’s a significant chance they will encounter them in their friends’ homes or other situations,” he said. “… Teaching kids the proper dangers and precautions will help keep them and their classmates safe.”
Nate told the committee scientific studies had confirmed that such programs are highly effective.
“The programs have demonstrated success,” Nate said. “According to the Centers for Disease Control, the NRA’s Eddie Eagle program has reduced incidental firearm-related deaths among their participants by 80 percent.”
But there does not appear to be any CDC study, or any other scientific study, showing the Eddie Eagle program reduced the number of accidental child shootings or deaths from child shootings by 80 percent or by any amount. Nate did not respond to a request for a citation of the study by press time.
The figure appears to come from an NRA “frequently asked questions” section about the program, which notes that since the program was created fatal firearms accidents among children in the target age group of the program had dropped by 80 percent. That’s the statistic for the overall age group, not just those who has participated in the program.
“NRA feels that gun accident prevention programs such as Eddie Eagle are a significant factor in that decline,” the FAQ notes.
There are other possible contributors to such a decline, including a reduction in children’s access to firearms. During the period the Eddie Eagle program has been in operation, there was a significant reduction in the number of homes with firearms. The number dropped from about half of homes nation-wide in 1988 to about one-third in 2016, according to polling data.
On the other hand, there do not appear to be any studies showing that firearm safety classes increase the number of accidental discharges or fatal accidents among children, or that such classes produce other negative effects.
Nate emphasized that the bill would encourage classes that teach safety rules around firearms, not actual shooting training.
“We’re not teaching kids how to use and handle guns and to shoot,” he said. “It’s about gun safety.”
Particularly at young ages, Nate said, such classes emphasize that children who encounter guns should stop, not touch the gun, leave the area and inform adults.
The bill next heads to the Senate floor, its last stop before Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s desk.
Reporter Bryan Clark can be reached at 208-542-6751.