Topeka Kansas legislators canceled debate Thursday on allowing elementary schools to offer a National Rifle Association-backed firearms safety course, responding to concerns such a step would be inappropriate the week after the mass shooting at a Florida high school.
House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., a conservative Kansas City-area Republican, said top GOP leaders are pursuing a more comprehensive plan that could include mental health initiatives.
The proposal drew fire from some Democrats and GOP moderates because it would give preference to an NRA gun-safety program as it authorized local schools to offer such courses to their students. They said it was inappropriate to steer schools to the NRA’s curriculum so soon after the fatal Valentine’s Day shootings of 17 people at a Parkland, Fla., high school by a 19-year-old former student.
“We don’t need to be doing that right now,” said state Rep. Stephanie Clayton, a moderate Kansas City-area Republican. “It’s much too soon.”
Kansas has been one of the most welcoming states in recent years for the NRA and its allies, with the GOP-controlled Legislature strongly supporting initiatives loosening restrictions on gun rights.
“We’re working on comprehensive solutions,” Ryckman said. “We need a bigger, more comprehensive look at this.”
And some strong gun-rights supporters said a delay made sense. Rep. John Whitmer, a conservative Wichita Republican, said he didn’t have a problem with putting off the debate and working on other safety measures. NRA spokeswoman Catherine Mortensen said the NRA supports a “comprehensive approach to school safety.”
“The NRA also agrees that tackling mental health issues must be a key component to any reforms aimed at protecting our schoolchildren,” Mortensen said in a statement.
Although the state’s 286 local school districts still can offer gun-safety courses without a specific law authorizing them, Whitmer said the goal is to encourage them to think about starting them.
But the bill would require the State Board of Education to adopt guidelines for such courses requiring ones for kindergarten through fifth grade to be based on the NRA’s Eddie Eagle GunSafe program. Courses for sixth through eighth grades could be based on the NRA program or one offered by the state Department for Wildlife, Tourism and Parks.
The NRA started its program in 1988, and the group estimated that 30 million U.S. students have taken such a course. Supporters of the bill said it’s a good one for teaching young children to avoid guns they see and tell an adult.
And Rep. Ken Corbet, a conservative Topeka Republican who operates a hunting lodge, said after mass shootings, he would think schools “would like a class like this to offer.”
But Jo Ella Hoye, a suburban Kansas City mother of a kindergartner and local leader of the Moms Demand Action group, said lawmakers could pursue other measures to promote gun safety, such a pending bill with bipartisan support to make it illegal for people convicted of misdemeanor domestic abuse to possess guns.
“We have to take a good, hard look at our gun laws,” she said.