Arizona bill would require schools to offer firearms training to students

Feb 21, 2023, 4:00 PM

(File photo by Tynin Fries/Cronkite News)...

(File photo by Tynin Fries/Cronkite News)

(File photo by Tynin Fries/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Arizona’s House of Representatives is continuing to advance a bill requiring public middle and high schools in Arizona to offer training on the proper handling of firearms.

Rep. Selina Bliss, R-Prescott, who sponsored HB 2332, said she wants children to learn proper firearms handling from experts to stop accidental deaths, and denied that the bill was about training children to use firearms.

But opponents, including two high school students who testified against the bill this month, worry the training would take away already limited school resources and push gun culture in public schools.

“The purpose of this bill is for children to learn about firearm safety from qualified individuals with the focus on safety rather than on popular culture in various forms of media,” said Bliss, a nurse, concealed weapons instructor and mother. The bill, which sets up an optional firearms safety training elective in school districts and charter schools for grades six to 12, has already passed through two committees and House caucuses. The next step would be a vote by the full House.

Bliss explained in an email that the bill would mandate that schools offer a 30- to 60-minute one-time session, but parents could opt out their children. Parents and firearm owners could be used to teach the class, Bliss said.

The Arizona Education Association opposes the bill as just another unfunded mandate.

“We have too many unfunded mandates that are having a negative impact on our public schools,” said Isela Blanc, legislative liaison for the AEA, said at a House Military Affairs and Public Safety Committee meeting on Feb. 6. That committee passed the bill by an 8-7 vote, and the House Rules Committee advanced the bill on Feb. 13 by a 5-3 vote.

Two high school students also voiced their opposition to the bill at the first committee hearing, saying there’s not enough funding for classes they consider beneficial.

“This gun training would take away resources from our school’s top priority and only responsibility — to educate students in areas that will prepare us to become productive, valuable members of society,” said Bridgette Hanson, a Gilbert High School freshman, adding her seventh-grade newspaper class was stopped because of lack of funding.

Moms Demand Action, a nonprofit group advocating for stronger gun laws, also opposes the bill. The group has its own firearms safety program called Be SMART — an acronym for secure, model, ask, recognize and tell. The program is aimed at parents and firearms owners to take the responsibility, not children, said Kelley Ireland, co-leader of Be SMART in Tucson. Ireland added firearms safety training sessions in schools “could traumatize children.”

This is not the first time such a bill has been considered. In 2022, Bliss’ District 1 colleague, Rep. Quang Nguyen, R-Prescott Valley, introduced HB 2448, which was nearly the same as HB 2332, with many sections of Nguyen’s bill taken verbatim by Bliss.

The exact curriculum is another concern of opponents. HB 2332 says sessions should be based on firearms accident prevention programs that must have “a task force made up of educators, school administrators, curriculum specialists, urban housing safety officials, clinical psychologists, law enforcement officials and firearms safety experts from the National Rifle Association,” along with other requirements.

The NRA’s Eddie Eagle program has a task force that matches this requirement using nearly the same words as the bill. That program, established in 1988, also fulfills another requirement in the bill, that the firearms accident prevention programs have existed for more than 30 years.

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Arizona bill would require schools to offer firearms training to students