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Gun safety education plan draws criticism

April 04, 2001

Gun safety education plan draws criticism



By LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Some Washington County lawmakers said they are wary of a statewide proposal to require gun safety education in public schools.

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The Maryland House of Delegates is expected to vote today on the plan, intended to prevent children from dying in accidental shootings.

Critics say it puts an added burden on school systems that are already struggling to give children a basic education.

"It's not the role of the General Assembly to dictate curriculum. I think it's more important the students learn how to read and write a complete sentence," said Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said school boards already have the authority to teach gun safety.

"They don't need government telling them they have to do it," said Shank, who said he believes it could allow "radical gun control groups" to infiltrate the classroom.

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But Del. Louise V. Snodgrass, R-Frederick/Washington, said it's just as important to educate children about guns as it is sex and drugs.

"It seems like the parents don't have the time or take the time. I think the issue is dreadfully important," she said.

Del. Sue Hecht said she was conflicted. While she favors gun safety education, she said, she's troubled that decisions on the details will be made by the Maryland State Board of Education after a law is passed.

"A lot of it is out of the hands of our local school boards," said Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington.

Under the proposal, local school boards can teach any of three established gun safety programs, including the National Rifle Association's Eddie the Eagle program.

Counties can also develop their own programs, under guidelines to be established by the Maryland State Board of Education.

The idea is to teach children that guns are dangerous and should be left alone. Some counties may choose to teach hunter safety instead.

The legislation introduced by House Speaker Casper Taylor, D-Allegany, requires gun safety to be taught periodically from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Gun safety could be incorporated into other areas of the curriculum, such as health, and might be taught only once or two days a year, supporters said.

The Washington County Board of Education is concerned about how far the mandate will reach, said board President Herbert Hardin.

"We have a curriculum that is so filled. When we are told to mandate that becomes a really cumbersome thing for the educator to know what to eliminate," he said.

Steve Palmer, president of the Washington County Sportsmen's Federation, said gun safety education is a parent's job, not the school system's.

Palmer said he has little faith that the state won't use the program as a way to teach students that guns are evil.

"It's legislators messing with something they have little knowledge about," Palmer said.

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