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State legislation would mandate gun safety training courses for Arizona schoolchildren

A gun lock on a pistol at the Meriden Police Department, June 21, 2019.
Dave Zajac/Record-Journal via AP
A gun lock on a pistol at the Meriden Police Department, June 21, 2019.

A bill introduced in the Arizona state House would require gun safety training for all district and charter students between 6th and 12th grades. Supporters say it would teach children what to do if they come across a firearm and that the courses wouldn’t include instruction on operating guns or hunting. Parents would also be able to opt out. But the bill has raised concern among some gun safety advocates. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius spoke with Brandy Reese with the group Civic Engagement Beyond Voting, which is speaking out against the legislation.

Ryan Heinsius: Your group has been testifying before state lawmakers about this bill and you say it shifts the responsibility of gun safety from owners to children. Can you explain that?

Brandy Reese: The thing that we would like to emphasize is that rights come with responsibilities. And the responsibility to be a responsible gun owner should fall on the gun owner, and it should be their responsibility to handle that weapon in a responsible way. And that includes making sure that it doesn’t fall into the hands of people it shouldn’t fall into, that children aren’t accessing these weapons. And I think we all know, if you have children, they don’t always make the best choices and decisions, and putting them in a position to be responsible for protecting their own life and the lives of others is kind of a monumental task.

RH: Plenty of life skills are taught in schools and seeing as about a third of Americans own guns and nearly half live in a household with a gun, could basic firearm safety be seen as just another practical life skill?

BR: I have read the language of this bill and it is taken nearly verbatim from a website that is for a curriculum called Eddie the Eagle (sic). It’s a product of the National Rifle Association, and independent studies of that particular curriculum have shown that that’s not effective. All of us want our kids to be safe and all of us want our children to learn life skills. I think that we need to do that with an approach to methods that actually work.

RH: Is this in any way a practical expectation that schools can take on one more added responsibility?

BR: Our efforts would be much better spent in addressing and prioritizing our children’s mental health needs. There’s a lot of anxiety and depression and suicidal ideation, even. Kids who are feeling this level of anxiety and depression and stress can’t get into that mindset of learning because they are dealing with all of these other emotional issues. And so, I think if we deal with those issues and get them back into a healthy mindset of learning we’ll all be better served.

RH: Schoolchildren live in a reality of active shooter drills. Are you concerned that more focus on guns would just ratchet up that anxiety for kids who already have the specter of gun violence and mass shootings lurking in the back of their minds?

BR: I can tell you from the actual students I have talked to that those gun-shooter drills are full of anxiety, and they are very, very aware that they live in a much different world than their parents did or their grandparents did, and that it does ratchet things up, it changes the game. If this sort of training and education was proven or shown to be successful, I think it would be a great thing. I just don’t thing that that is realistic, and I don’t understand proposing legislation to solve a problem when we have evidence that it doesn’t solve that problem.

RH: Arizona doesn’t have any laws on the books that require gun owners to safely store their firearms. What does that say about the state of gun safety in Arizona in general to you?

BR: I think that is short-sighted, honestly. I have met a lovely couple actually in Gilbert who lost their son just last year, a teenager. There was an unsecured weapon and their son was a victim of a gunshot wound and died. So, they are proposing the passing of Christian’s Law which requires gun owners to be responsible and to secure those weapons. And that has gone nowhere in this legislature. And yet here we have sort of the opposite take of that, this opposite bill, putting the onus on our schoolchildren to learn how to be safe with them. I think that sums it up, right? We’re not putting responsibility of where it ought to be and shifting it.

Ryan Heinsius joined the KNAU newsroom as executive producer in 2013 and was named news director and managing editor in 2024. As a reporter, he has covered a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.