- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 4, 2001

ANNAPOLIS Maryland lawmakers are moving toward issuing a rare curriculum mandate for gun-safety education against the wishes of the state Board of Education and many local school boards.

The push, which has approval of the National Rifle Association and Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse, is widely seen as political cover for House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., who has been criticized in his Western Maryland district for supporting an unpopular gun-control measure last year.

Just last week, Mr. Taylor's bill which was to become a vehicle for compromise between gun-control and gun-rights advocates was pulled back to committee because of objections from gun groups, including the NRA.

Mr. Taylor could not be reached for comment last night..

The House Ways and Means Committee amended the bill Monday to make sure local school boards had to power to decide what gun-safety programs would be taught in their schools.

The role of the state Board of Education would be to set policy and guidelines for the programs.

The state board opposes the bill, not because it disagrees with gun-safety education, but because it opposes curriculum mandates, board spokesman Ronald Peiffer said.

Many legislators across the political spectrum said they see no need for the bill, aside from political considerations, because school systems already are free to implement or mandate gun-education programs now.

"Many students can't write a complete sentence and can't count change," said Delegate Robert A. McKee, a Washington County Republican who agrees with Delegate Jean Cryor, a Montgomery County Republican and centrist, that the new mandate could take time some schools need to spend on academics.

But Delegate Henry Heller, Montgomery County Democrat and retired public school teacher and administrator, said he believes the problem of guns showing up in schools is worth addressing. And Mr. Heller said school systems sometimes need state oversight as well as state funds.

Still NRA lobbyist Greg Costa said he considers the revised proposal a "very good" one.

Under it, local schools may use programs developed by the NRA, Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse and an association of emergency room physicians or they can design their own.

The bill would allow firearms to be used only in grades seven through 12 for hunter-safety programs, as long the instruction takes place at a qualified shooting range rather than on school property.

"We appreciate what [Mr. Taylor] has done," Mr. Costa said. "The difference is that it's now mandated that something will take place and they can't [prohibit] Eddie Eagle [the NRA program]."

And Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse lobbyist Eric Gally praised the bill but said he expects "rancorous debate" and amendments when the issue comes to the floor today.

"People should do as they dare… . We have a heavily motivated sponsor with a heavy hand," Mr. Gally said.

If approved, gun-safety education would be the first curriculum mandate from the legislature since it began requiring HIV-AIDS education in 1988. The only other legislative mandate, Mr. Peiffer said, is a decades-old one requiring schools to teach sex education, although parents can decide to not have their children take that class.

Many school systems already provide some gun-safety education although the extent of their programs vary greatly.

Few public schools have made the commitment to gun education the way Carroll County's schools have. That system borrowed from the Eddie Eagle program last year to develop a gun-safety curriculum it has implemented throughout their schools.

But other jurisdictions including Frederick County and Baltimore city spend some class time teaching how to use a gun properly and avoid accidents.

Frederick County Sheriff's Office employees were teaching the NRA's Eddie Eagle program in some Frederick County schools until a few years ago when some parents spotted the NRA logo on some the materials and objected.

Now some Frederick County schools teach gun safety as part of personal-safety classes, Board of Education President Ronald W. Peppe II said.

"We don't oppose gun-safety education, but from talking to teachers and curriculum specialists, we haven't seen a need for more," Mr. Peppe said. "What we objected to was the state telling us what to do."

Mr. Peppe said Frederick County's school board hasn't discussed what it will do if the bill passes.

After a briefing on the House bill yesterday, Montgomery County's Board of Education unanimously opposed the bill on the grounds that it's a mandate and unfunded, said Lori Rogovin, lobbyist for Montgomery schools.

But April Lewis, Baltimore city schools' director of drug and violence education, said the move to mandate gun-safety education is "validating" what's already being done in the city schools, where gun education is a part of health instruction and lessons on reporting and avoiding guns are repeated in violence prevention and decision-making classes.

Still some gun-rights activists argue the mandate is bad policy developed to deal with a crisis they don't believe exists.

"When you look at the facts, you see the tremendous success responsible Maryland gun owners have had in keeping accidents and injuries low," said James Purtilo, publisher of the gun-rights newsletter Tripwire.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide