Maryland was poised last week to become the first state to require gun-safety education for students in grades K-12.
Members of the House of Delegates approved a measure that would allow school districts to determine what type of curriculum materials they would use to teach students how to behave when and if they come in contact with a gun.
The Senate approved a similar measure last month, but as of late last week, differences between the two bills needed to be resolved so a bill could be sent to Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, before the scheduled end of the session on April 9.
Under the Senate version, which was sponsored by Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, districts would have to incorporate gun-safety education in kindergarten through grade 12. The House version calls for firearms-safety education in grades K-6, but would allow districts to choose between gun-safety and hunting- safety instruction in grades 7-12.
The version passed by the House by a vote of 98-32 on April 5 was the result of compromise negotiations that centered around the role that the National Rifle Association’s Eddie Eagle program would play in the bill.
Some lawmakers feared that the state board of education would interpret the law in such a way that the NRA’s widely used program would be barred from schools. Others wanted the state to set the guidelines for carrying out the firearms-education program and did not see the need to name specific programs in the legislation. “We just wanted the local school districts and not the state board of education to determine what sort of programs to teach and how to teach it,” said Andrew A. Arulanandam, a spokesman for the NRA, who noted that the Maryland bill would create the first firearms- safety requirement of its kind in the country. “All we wanted was a choice—we didn’t want to be left out of that choice.”
Ultimately, the version that passed the House included a provision mandating that districts have the option of choosing among several programs. They include the Eddie Eagle program—which teaches students to “Stop! Don’t touch. Leave the area” and to tell an adult if they spot a firearm—as well as a program developed by the Washington-based Center to Prevent Handgun Violence and another created by the Baltimore-based National Emergency Medicine Association. Districts could also devise their own programs.
Ginni Wolf, the executive director of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse, said that while she was ultimately “comfortable” with the House version of the bill, she believed that it “provided free advertising for the NRA and its programs.”
Still, she said, “we were willing to accept almost anything other than mandated Eddie Eagle.”
“It’s a compromise,” she said, “and at least it gets education out there in the schools.”
Sen. Hoffman, a Democrat, said the compromise measure in the House fulfilled her desire that school districts maintain absolute local control over the curriculum. Ms. Hoffman said she backed the measure because of the experience of Carole and John Price, who lost their 13-year-old son, John Joseph Price, in 1998, when he was accidentally killed by a 9-year-old boy playing with a handgun. While Ms. Hoffman’s version of the bill was named after John Joseph Price, the House version is not.
“I would have been happy if they had been willing to name it for John Price,” Ms. Hoffman said. “But they’re not, and it doesn’t bring the child back.”
A version of this article appeared in the April 11, 2001 edition of Education Week as Maryland Ready To Require Gun-Safety Education in Grades K-12