TOPEKA — Democratic Sen. Dinah Sykes proposed supplementing resources for firearm safety instruction in Kansas public schools beyond National Rifle Association and Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks programs for students in kindergarten through high school.
Sykes, who previously denounced a bill giving rise to the NRA firearm initiative in Kansas, offered an amendment Tuesday to House Bill 2304 incorporating materials from Everytown for Gun Safety that promoted responsible gun ownership and storage along with the goal of reducing child gun deaths. She suggested the NRA’s “Eddie Eagle” advice could be paired with Everytown’s “Be Smart” insights.
“As the children are learning gun safety from Eddie the Eagle, they would also receive information on the Be Smart curriculum,” Sykes said.
Her suggestion was rejected 11-28 by Senate Republicans eager to avoid disruption of legislation requiring the Kansas State Board of Education to establish curriculum standards for teaching firearm safety in schools. Under the bill, local school districts would decide whether to take advantage of a new program featuring NRA materials in K-8 grades and making use of KDWP hunter safety training in grades 6-12.
On final action Wednesday in the Senate, the bill was approved 23-16. It moved to the gray area in which the House and Senate could engage in talks in search of a compromise.
“The Legislature should not be making decisions about school curriculum,” said Lawrence Democratic Sen. Marci Francisco, who voted against the bill. “The Legislature should be adopting legislation with requirements for secure storage to make gun ownership safer.”
‘Not teaching gun safety’
Shawnee Republican Sen. Mike Thompson, chairman of the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee, said he wasn’t familiar with the Be Smart program but didn’t believe materials prepared by Everytown for Gun Safety, which advocated for gun control and against gun violence, would complement work of the National Rifle Association, the nation’s prominent gun rights advocacy group.
He said a quick review of an Everytown for Gun Safety website revealed text alleging champions of the right to bear arms were aligned with extremist ideologies. He said Everytown for Gun Safety was dedicated to convincing youth to be frightened of guns rather than adopt a healthy respect for firearms.
“This is community organizing. This is not teaching gun safety. This is a program designed to indoctrinate young people instead of teach them gun safety,” Thompson said. “We want to teach these children how to handle firearms safely starting at a young age.”
Sykes’ rebuttal: “The NRA is known for community organizing. If you have trouble with my amendment, you should have trouble with the underlying bill about indoctrination.”
Sen. Renee Erickson, R-Wichita, said it was evident Everytown for Gun Safety and NRA had vastly different approaches to firearm safety. She said the Eddie Eagle curriculum was aimed at reinforcing respect for the 2nd Amendment.
“We want to teach our kids how to safely handle firearms,” Erickson said. “From what I can tell from the Everytown for Gun Safety, their approach is to eradicate guns. Is that the goal?”
Sykes said the Be Smart curriculum urged people to secure all guns at home and in vehicles, model responsible behavior around weapons, ask about unsecured firearms in homes, recognize the role of guns in suicide and encourage peers to be smart about weapons.
“Any reasonable gun owner would want to have a secure gun, would want to model responsible behavior,” Sykes said.
The NRA’s core advice, presented to students via Eddie Eagle, was for youth encountering an unattended gun to stop, avoid the weapon, run away and inform an adult.
Another school shooting
Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, said she awoke to news of the shooting death of six people in a private elementary school in Nashville, Tennessee. Officials said a former student at The Covenant School killed three children and three adults before being fatally shot by law enforcement officers.
“I believe that all of us in this chamber, and those listening, are in support of gun safety measures, saving lives,” Faust-Goudeau said. “I think an added piece to any information of safety that our children can receive would be positive.”
The Senate originally approved an NRA and KDWP instruction bill in February on a vote of 30-8. The decision to debate the bill again was necessitated by the Kansas House’s conversion of the Senate’s gun safety bill into a liquor regulation package. Transition of Senate Bill 116 was completed Monday with a 102-21 vote in the House.
In 2021, Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed a comparable firearm instruction bill.