The Kansas House advanced a bill requiring the state Board of Education to initiate gun safety instruction for elementary and middle school students based on the National Rifle Association’s trademarked Eddie Eagle program last week.
Rep. Patrick Penn, the Wichita Republican and chief sponsor of the gun bill said it ought to be named in honor of Roy’Ale Spencer, a 9-year-old boy in Wichita accidently shot and killed by a friend in 2019. The boys managed to get into a locked gun safe and were handling a shotgun when Spencer was shot. The Sedgwick County district attorney didn’t file charges in the death.
The NRA recommends the Eddie Eagle program as a way for parents, law enforcement officers, community groups and educators to help prevent more gun accidents like Spencer’s.
The fundamental message of the program: “Stop. Don’t touch. Run away. Tell a grown up.” In addition, the gun-rights organization responds to criticism of the program by saying schools engage in “stranger-danger, internet safety, fire drills and more with children. So, why not include gun safety?” The NRA suggests the Eddie Eagle program delivers no value judgment about firearms.
On social media, Spencer’s mother, Sunny Smith, said she supported the firearm safety bill offered by Penn. She also endorsed a gun storage bill introduced by Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita. GOP members of the House and Senate have a track record of working to derail legislation dictating to Kansans how to store weapons in favor of broader protection of gun owners.
“I know there’s a lot of controversy on what bills I support,” Smith said. “I support both. Some type of education is definitely needed. A safe storage law is definitely needed.”
Despite the bill’s advance, there was opposition on both sides. Rep. Michael Dodson, a Manhattan Republican who served as commanding general at Fort Riley, said some legislators would be surprised by his opposition to the bill given his 37-year career in the U.S. Army.
He said the bill sounded good on the surface, but obscured the problem of parents not taking responsibility for education of their children. In this case, he said, the bill was designed to create in curriculum a familiarity with firearms that had no place in schools.
“I don’t want to mix schools and guns,” said Dodson, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general. “The problem with kids and guns is not the kids. It’s the parents. Young kids don’t buy guns. Parents buy guns and they bring them into the house and then bad things happen. We seem to more and more hand these problems off at the schools and walk away.”
Rep. Jerry Stogsdill, D-Prairie Village said school boards at the state and levels should be allowed to weigh in on the legislation.
“Teachers, school boards members, boards of education, parents and other people who were interested in this bill did not have a chance to have their say in committee. I think that’s a terrible misuse of the legislative process,” Stogsdill said.
He said it was the fourth bill to reach the House floor during the 2021 session that would usurp rights and responsibilities of the state Board of Education.
“Maybe some time in the future, instead of aiming our legislation at five-year-olds, we ought to maybe legislate some common-sense gun laws that are directed towards the adults in our state. Because that seems to be the genesis of the problem, if you ask me,” Stogsdill said.