29 May 2005

Arizona Gun Safety Elective

From Fox News, last Saturday:

Gun Safety 101 Sparks Debate

Saturday, May 21, 2005
LOS ANGELES — Arizona schools have added a fourth "R" to reading, writing and arithmetic — rifles.

Students who choose to enroll in this new course learn the safe way to handle a gun and earn one credit — the equivalent to ceramics or photography electives. Critics are gunning the debate; they say handing teenagers loaded weapons equals trouble.

“I'm afraid these programs are really geared more toward increasing peoples interest in guns rather than safety,” said Dr. Mary Rimsza, director of the Student Health Center at ASU.

However, some students say it is on target with their curriculum.

“We learn life skills, like when we miss [a shot], not to get mad. You learn a lot of cooperation with your team members,” said student Kim Peters.

And many parents argue they would rather their children learn how to handle a gun and be safe, than be sorry.

“It is very important for a child to be proficient responsible with a firearm as a hobby or just practical shooting, he should know how to operate it just like you would teach a child how to operate a saw or any hand tool,” said parent Scott Marx.

Arizona's State Game and Fish Department said it will dispatch qualified, trained instructors to every school that signs up.

There are three arguments I can think of off the top of my head that people might make against this: (1) it gives students knowledge about and access to guns that they otherwise wouldn't have; (2) it heightens students' interest in guns above what it would have been otherwise; and (3) it inappropriately juxtaposes firearm education and more 'conventional' education.

To (1) I say, if a kid is sufficiently curious about guns, he is going to do whatever it takes to get his hands on them to mess around with them. I would prefer that he be introduced to them in a controlled setting with proper supervision, so that he appreciates their capabilities and is able to handle them safely and properly.

As for (2), while I agree that students interested in guns will probably become more interested in them by taking the course, I don't think that interest in itself is a bad thing. As with (1), if that interest is accompanied by an appreciation of their capabilities and knowledge of proper and safe handling, I don't see the problem. As to the reverse argument, inducing interest from those students with none, if someone really doesn't want to mess around with or learn about guns, then they'll simply just avoid this elective.

Point (3) I actually agree with, to a limited extent. Semantically, learning to shoot a handgun or a 0.22 rifle is different from learning how to throw a pot - usually ceramics aren't lethal weapons. From that perspective, I definitely think it would be inappropriate for a firearms safety elective to be imposed from a national or a state level. However, if a local school district wants to include something like this, more power to them. If there are enough citizens opposed to it, then it can be removed from the offered curriculum via action in the local School Board. This strikes me as something that is most effectively and appropriately managed at the local level.

So, on the whole, if people want something like this in their local school system, it's quite fine by me. On the whole, I think it would be a beneficial option for students to have, while withholding it as an option would not significantly decrease the risk of individual unbalanced students from engaging in violent acts with firearms.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am a strong (though quiet) advocate of firearms safety programs. There would be so many fewer accidental deaths if people knew how to safely handle these weapons, and had an honest *apprciation* for the damage they can do. Possibly, there would be fewer intentional deaths as well. And yes... those who want to learn about them for other uses, will anyway. All the school truly needs is responsible/trustworthy instructors and a really secure place to store the weapons (NOT in the school building, and preferably not on school grounds).