Legislator proposes hunting, firearm safety classes

CHEYENNE — A Republican state lawmaker has introduced a resolution that would encourage the Wyoming Department of Education to offer voluntary gun and hunting safety classes in the state's high schools. 

If passed during the legislative session that begins next week, Senate Joint Resolution 1 would urge the Game and Fish Commission to collaborate with the Department of Education to create the safety classes as a physical education elective.

Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, the main sponsor of the legislation, said the classes would help mitigate the risk of accidental gun deaths in Wyoming.

"There's an amazing amount of deaths yearly by people handling guns who don't know what they can do to people," Driskill said.

In recent years, Wyoming had by far the most guns per capita of any state in the U.S, according to statistics from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. From 2008 to 2017, Wyoming had the sixth-highest rate of gun deaths of any state, with a rate of 17.73 gun deaths for every 100,000 people, according to federal data collected by the Center for American Progress.

"If we can save one life by having a gun safety class in school, we've done the right thing for Wyoming," Driskill said.

The legislation does not explicitly require local school districts to offer the gun and hunting safety classes. Instead, the legislation only "urges and requests" departmental collaboration to make the classes a reality.

In an interview with the Tribune Eagle, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow said she has been discussing the resolution with Driskill and Game and Fish Department Director Brian Nesvik in recent months. 

Balow said she anticipates supporting the measure, though she will see how the resolution evolves during the legislative session before giving her final endorsement. 

"This is one that I'll be watching carefully," she added.

Balow also noted the classes could boost the state's economy by promoting Wyoming's hunting and angling industries to the next generation of adventurers. 

"Not only does it benefit the students who have the opportunity to learn about hunter safety, but it also just builds that community of stewardship, hunter safety, conservation and wildlife management," Balow said.

Considering some districts like Laramie County School District 1 have bans on firearms on campus, Balow said the components of the class that may require firearm use could be completed at a gun range away from school property.

"Using firearms is a pretty small portion of hunter safety education," Balow said. "It's obviously an important part, but it's a culminating event. So most of the work can take place in a classroom type of setting."

Balow said she hasn't spoken about Driskill's resolution specifically with school administrators around Wyoming, but added she thinks it will find support in local school districts.

While he hadn't had a chance to read the bill prior to being contacted by a reporter Monday, LCSD1 Superintendent Boyd Brown said he's on board with doing as much safety training as possible. 

"As long as it's optional, I wouldn't have a problem with it," Brown said.

If the resolution is passed, it remains to be seen whether the classes would be taught by teachers within the district or by representatives from the Game and Fish Department. Driskill said it would take some time to develop a gun safety curriculum.

"Since it's a resolution, it allows a lot of flexibility for local school boards," Driskill said. "I'm a local control guy; that's what I believe in ... I'm not telling them to do it; it's asking them to look at it."

Joint resolutions move like bills in the legislative process, meaning SJR 1 will need two-thirds vote in its originating chamber to be introduced for discussion during a budget session. This year's legislative session begins next Monday at the state Capitol.