Bill Burton on the Bay
Vol. 9, No. 14
April 5-11, 2001
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Guns in School?
For Education, Yes

Cherish that which is within you, and shut off that which is without; for much knowledge is a curse.
-Chuang-tzu', 369-286 BC

Or is the following more appropriate?

If a little knowledge is dangerous, where is the man who has so much as to be out of danger?
-Thomas Henry Huxley, 1825-1895.

Perhaps it's summed up best of all in the words of our sixth president whose term began the very year Huxley was born and ended four years later:

To furnish the means of acquiring knowledge is the greatest benefit that can be conferred on mankind. It prolongs life itself and enlarges the sphere of existence.
-John Quincy Adams, 1767-1848.

Our topic this week is guns, more explicitly bringing guns into schools - though not the guns themselves. Instead, gun education, a subject we've been hearing and reading much of lately.

It's akin to another controversy of long standing: Should sex education enter the classroom? Is it best taught - and learned - in schools or in homes?

Probably, with both guns and sex education, schools or home, the legitimate answer is: It all depends upon the teacher. But isn't the bottom line really both? School and home?

To read some editorials or columns of late, one would think the General Assembly was considering arming students and sending them to class. But to give legislators credit when due, there's no more intent in the legislation to send kids to school with guns to kill other kids than there is to send kids to school to have sex.

Curiously, reaction is paradoxical. Many social liberals who want sex education taught in schools don't want comprehensive gun education taught - while the social conservatives, who don't want their kids taught comprehensive sex education, root for gun education.

Can it be that here we have a situation not based entirely on teaching and learning and who does the teaching, but on the topic itself? If the nays win in either issue, the students lose.

Guns in Session

The guns question has been an exceptionally hot issue in Annapolis, and as I write there's no telling how it will end. At first, it appeared a shoo-in. Maryland would be the first state to teach gun safety in all schools - from kindergarten through 12th grade.

The bill got bogged down, then new life was pumped into it. So it goes round and round, and where it stops, no one knows. But we do know if it doesn't make it this time around, it will be back - and not only in Maryland. Other states have shown interest in formal gun education.

The bugaboo in the legislation proposed hereabouts is whether the National Rifle Association should have a role in a gun education program in schools. Many don't want guns teaching if NRA is involved; many don't want it if NRA isn't involved.

NRA or Not NRA

Regular readers of this column know this writer is not a big fan of the National Rifle Association, which - if it had agreed to compromise years ago - could have alleviated much of the ongoing controversy about firearms. But instead it irresponsibly played hardball, wouldn't budge an inch, erroneously informed members and anyone else who would listen that they had under the Second Amendment a constitutional right to bear arms - anything from slingshots to Glocks and assault rifles.

I'll argue that point, but I can't argue that, to some degree or other, NRA shouldn't be involved in public guns education. Its gun safety and use courses are as good, if not better, than any available. Too bad the organization didn't stay with that aspect of firearms use.

NRA thinks its Eddie Eagle program should be considered as part of a guns education course. Through animated slides and textbooks, Eddie Eagle familiarizes students with proper gun use, and when they move on to upper grades, it adds hunter safety to the curriculum.

The latest version of the bill in the Maryland legislature would leave it to local jurisdictions to determine whether Eddie Eagle should be aboard.

Both sides mistrust the other - and perhaps with good cause. Anti-hunters and anti-gun advocates fear that NRA involvement will, among other things, promote hunting as well as gun ownership. Hunters and other users of sporting arms are concerned that without NRA involvement, guns education will be anti-gun and anti-hunting.

Caught in the middle is common sense. No question but what in today's society, gun education belongs in schools. And to my way of thinking, all aspects of firearms ownership and use is appropriate.

Can you, dear reader, visualize the curriculum if anti-gun or anti-hunter interests had their way? Brainwashing, from Day One: Guns are bad, hunting is bad. Banish both.

Yet if NRA had its way unchallenged, wouldn't the message be guns are good, hunting is good and citizens have the right to bear arms - any arms and as many as they want?

Which brings us back to knowledge, a point of reference quite appropriate in this quagmire. Does it not seem reasonable that students old enough to evaluate differences be familiarized with all viewpoints, taught in moderation, then make their own decisions - while absorbing basic firearms safety and responsible use?

Or is it better to go the route of Chuang-tzu' and shut off any learning? Just look upon guns as something bad, something to do away with; then the world will be Utopia.

Worrisome is the view of Ginni Wolf, executive director of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse, who was quoted in the Washington Post: "I mean, what would Baltimore students do with hunting lessons? That might be fine for a rural outlying county, but not an urban one."

Now wait a second. Are we to assume a person raised in the city would never want a gun for anything other than shooting another human? That city kids will never participate in hunting? Just teach them that guns are bad, and they'll never want to own or use one?

I know many urban - even inner city - youngsters and adults of both genders who enjoy the sport of hunting. With many it's a wholesome father/son or father/daughter outdoor activity. The same with target shooting, skeet, trap, sporting clays and such. Even the Olympics dish out gold medals for marksmanship.

Look at hunters of today. On the whole, they are among the foremost in promoting and financing conservation, wildlife and natural resources. They're not just out to pot a goose or deer. They spend time outdoors, coming to know and appreciate so many things about wildlife and the environment that is alien to those who stay strictly with basketball, lacrosse, field hockey and such.

In addition, via licenses, permits and such, they pay for countless programs for wildlife management, wildlife itself, and public lands benefiting not just game birds and animals but also non-game species from songbirds to black bears.

Let's put a little faith in our kids. Let them know the whole story. At home and at school, let's teach them responsibility in the handling of firearms, even expose them to the benefits of firearms for sporting purposes, giving them the knowledge John Q. spoke of. It could, as he said, "prolong life." Enough said...

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly