After Kansas school shooting, lawmakers assess NRA gun safety training

Topeka lawmakers are again at odds over what kind of gun safety training should be required in schools and what input the National Rifle Association should have in that program.

The debate has raged for several years but took on new momentum in 2022 in light of a shooting earlier this month at Olathe East High School in Johnson County, where the shooter, an administrator and a police officer school resources were injured.

The event rocked community members and prompted state Democrats to consider rolling back state gun laws, though the legislature has generally done the opposite in recent years, including expanding concealed carry on college campuses.

Continued:Teen adults are prohibited from carrying concealed weapons in Kansas. Lawmakers can change that.

The bill would require the Kansas State Board of Education to develop gun safety courses in schools that use the NRA’s Eddie Eagle training program for young students, or a program deemed suitably equivalent, as a guideline. . Older students would be required to use a hunter safety program created by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.

But critics say the idea was an inadequate response in light of the shooting and no substitute for meaningful action on gun issues.

A hearing on the bill in the Senate Federal-State Affairs Committee was initially canceled after the shooting. Sen. Cindy Holscher, D-Overland Park, told reporters it was “tone deaf” to proceed with the postponed meeting on Monday.

“When it was mentioned that the bill had been postponed, a number of people were quite shocked, honestly,” she said. “To think, ‘OK, we haven’t even got past what just happened. And now, you know, we had this bill that was being pushed through the Legislative Assembly.'”

Sen. Rob Olson, R-Olathe, chairs a March 14 Federal and State Affairs Senate meeting on a bill to use the National Rifle Association's Eddie Eagle gun safety program in schools.

Senator Rob Olson, R-Olathe, chairman of the committee, defended the decision to have a hearing on the matter.

“I don’t understand the comments,” he said. “It’s just a matter of safety, and it’s a good bill.”

Gun rights advocates argue bill is ‘common sense’

The long-running Eddie Eagle program urges kids to “Stop. Do not touch. Run away. Tell an adult” if they see a gun in a house.

The NRA has argued that the initiative does not somehow advocate the use of firearms, saying the program is akin to teaching fire safety. Firearms, real or fake, are not used, according to the organization.

“We should be teaching all of our young people this on a regular basis,” Kansas State Rifle Association lobbyist Jason Watkins said. “It’s common sense.”

The legislation directs the State Board of Education to provide the curriculum and guidelines. Proponents argue that school districts would still retain some flexibility in determining whether to offer gun safety classes and whether such a program would take place in physical education or health classes.

The state board of education has historically opposed the bill, arguing that it infringes on the board’s freedom to set state standards without legislative interference.

Continued:Kansas State Board of Education and Legislature try to rectify ‘turf battles’ after tough year

But Senator Alicia Straub, R-Ellinwood, pushed back, saying, “As a parent, I don’t want an anti-gun teacher imposing his views on my kids.”

“It’s important to teach kids that guns aren’t bad, bad people are bad,” Straub said. “And guns actually serve a purpose in society, not just for sport but also for hunting.”

Some have raised concerns that the Eddie Eagle program is not as effective as its promoters believe. A 2004 study found that children could recite slogans from the program but “were unable to perform the skills” when prompted in a role-playing scenario.

School shootings add new dimension to gun safety debate

The debate over the merits of Eddie Eagle is not new. Similar legislation was passed last year and defeated by Governor Laura Kelly and lawmakers have made no attempt to override her veto.

The Olathe East shooting, however, added a new element to the debate.

Senator Holscher, whose son was in class at Olathe East when the shooting took place, said students and teachers at the school wanted to make an effort to testify about the bill, but did not. did because the pain from the shooting was still so raw.

“Obviously people are still trying to process what happened in Olathe East, not even really thinking about bills like this being pushed here in the Legislative Assembly,” he said. she stated.

A student submitted a written objection via Holscher, calling the bill a “performative action” on the part of the NRA to “release it from the obligation to ensure thorough background checks and proper training, among other things gun control measures.

Another, Olathe North junior Aarushi Pore, came forward against the bill, the only person to do so at the hearing.

Pore ​​said there was real fear among his classmates that they might be next, even though the shooting happened at a nearby school.

“Events like these make it clear that now is the time to find better and more effective solutions to target gun violence,” Pore said. “And that means not mandating the NRA program which doesn’t even realize what it intends to do.”

Members call for greater attention to gun control issues

Gun control advocates also want the legislature to focus its attention elsewhere.

Holscher on Monday introduced a bill to ban so-called ghost guns, which are untraceable firearms assembled by an individual from a kit that can be ordered online.

The Olathe East shooter allegedly used a ghost gun during the shooting, according to Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe. He appealed the Legislative Assembly to take action to limit the use of phantom guns, arguing that law enforcement is also affected by difficulties in tracing firearms.

“I think what we’re seeing is that this is a growing area of ​​concern,” Holscher said. “With easy access to these kits (and) parts delivered online. And obviously kids are pretty tech-savvy.”

In a social media post shortly after its bill was introduced, however, the Kansas State Rifle Association “an effort to curb the law-abiding right, Kansans have always had to pursue the hobby of building their own firearm for personal use” and said they would stand in opposition.

Lawmakers also considered a bill earlier this month that would require people convicted of domestic violence or under an abuse protection order to give up their guns.

Proponents believe it would limit shooting deaths in domestic violence situations, while law enforcement argues the measure would put them in a difficult enforcement position and potentially violate an individual’s rights to the law. second amendment.

And Pore stressed the need to explore legislation that would require proper gun storage in homes with children 18 and under.

“If curriculum for school curricula is needed, we need to promote effective curricula that really target the issues that need to be addressed,” she said.

Andrew Bahl is a senior reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached at [email protected] or by phone at 443-979-6100.

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