The Utah House of Representatives passed three firearm safety bills Friday, among them a controversial bill to create a high school firearm safety class.
HB258 would create a pilot program to provide a half-credit semester course in gun handling for high school students. The bill passed 47-21 in the House and will next move on to the Senate.
The bill sparked debate on the House floor, with some representatives questioning whether teaching a gun safety class in a public high school is necessary or even permissible.
Rep. Joel K. Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, said he has qualms about funding gun handling education with taxpayer dollars while many districts have moved driver’s education outside the school day and left parents to foot the bill.
A better way to supplement students’ already packed course loads, he suggested, might be to add another semester of civics education.
Under HB258, the State Board of Education would select schools to participate in the pilot program based on interest. Students who choose to sign up for the class would earn elective credit only, and parents could prohibit their child from taking it.
No actual firearms would be used on school grounds; rather, training would take place with replica guns to mitigate safety and liability risks.
Rep. Brian S. King, D-Salt Lake City, said he feels teaching gun safety in high schools pushes too hard to promote gun ownership. This bill, he said, is the type of bill supported by gun manufacturer lobbyists trying to get firearms into the hands of everyone they can.
“I want to make sure that the Second Amendment is protected, but I don’t think the Second Amendment requires or calls on us to ensure that every person has a gun in their home or that every person even knows how to operate a gun,” he said.
Speaking in favor of the bill, Rep. Brady Brammer, R-Pleasant Grove, compared gun safety education to sex education. Concern exists among some groups that teenagers who receive comprehensive sex education are more likely to have sex, with the counterpoint being that if they aren’t educated, they will still engage in sex, just not safely. The same arguments and counter-arguments apply to gun safety, Brammer said.
“This [bill] provides some knowledge related to a key fundamental right — not just a privilege, but a right,” he said, adding that failing to educate people about how to responsibly exercise that right “simply makes no sense.”
The House also passed HB200, which would allow a gun owner or someone living with a gun owner to voluntarily surrender the firearms in his or her home to a law enforcement officer if he or she felt unsafe for any reason, and HB267, which allows a person at risk of suicide or self-harm to voluntarily and temporarily forfeit his or her right to buy a gun. Both received bipartisan support; the former passed 63-4, and the latter passed 66-0.
All three gun safety bills will advance to the Senate.