School gun class idea draws mixed reactions

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MADISON - Local legislators and school officials have mixed feelings about a bill introduced in the state Assembly that could start firearms education classes in high schools as an elective option.

Under the bill, presented by lead sponsor Rep. Ken Skowronski, R-Franklin, schools could offer an on-site gun education class, something supporters say would promote gun safety. No live ammunition would be allowed on school property, in line with current state laws.

The class would not be a mandatory requirement for students, but the bill would force schools to develop curricula on the class.

Any class curriculum would need to be drafted in concert with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, local law enforcement or a community group that specializes in gun safety and certification of firearms, according to the bill.

The School District of Beloit said it was monitoring the legislation and debate surrounding the issue.

"Along with the Wisconsin Association of School Boards and other districts, we are tracking this and other proposed and potential legislation that may impact our operations and curriculum," said Public Information Officer Jennifer Thompson.

Lawmakers representing Beloit stand divided on the issue, with Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, and Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, voicing different views on the bill. Loudenbeck pointed to the many student athletes competing in sport shooting as reason to support the measure, while Spreitzer questioned whether or not the bill could take away from existing school resources.

"Wisconsin has a long sporting heritage history, which is evident by the rapid growth of sport shooting programs in our state's middle and high schools," Loudenbeck said.

The Scholastic Clay Targets Program has enrolled 3,500 students in 115 different schools across the state, Loudenbeck said.

She also stressed the choices written into the bill for schools to decide whether or not to create the elective.

"This legislation will allow local school districts to make a decision on offering a firearms safety course that is right for their community," Loudenbeck said.

Opponents questioned the bill at a public hearing held in Madison earlier this month, asking what would prevent students from bringing live ammunition to the class, where a range of firearms, from handguns to rifles would be available to students. Last week, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin came out against the bill, citing similar budget concerns brought up by Spreitzer.

"Wisconsin has many well qualified organizations which already teach comprehensive hunter and firearm safety courses, so I'm not convinced (the bill) is a wise use of ever-dwindling school resources," Spreitzer said. "I hope that Gov. Scott Walker, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos can come to an agreement soon on a state budget that gives our schools the resources they need heading into this school year."

The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin has voice opposition to the bill (Assembly Bill 427) saying finances and employee time to create curriculum and instruct the classes would take away from other areas of education that would be more productive for the state.

Representatives for the School District of Beloit-Turner could not immediately be reached for comment.

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