House panel holds Nate’s bill encouraging gun safety courses in schools

A divided House Education Committee voted Tuesday to hold Rep. Ron Nate’s bill that encourages school districts to offer firearms safety courses in schools.

Rep. Ron Nate

Committee members voted 9-6 to hold the bill in committee, with six Republicans joining the panel’s three Democrats in opposing it. The committee’s action effectively kills House Bill 240 for the year.

Nate, a Republican from Rexburg, said his bill was a gun safety measure designed to help students learn how to properly handle firearms. He stressed that any firearms safety courses would have been optional and that his bill would not allow for the presence or use of live ammo.

The courses would have been offered only in secondary schools, and taught by a law enforcement officer, Idaho Department of Fish and Game officer or a firearms association’s gun safety instructor.

This bill “has the potential of saving lives in Idaho,” Nate said.

Several legislators from both parties questioned the bill for about an hour. Rep. Sally Toone, a Gooding Democrat and retired teacher, noted that semester-long elective courses require about 60 hours of instruction time. She wondered how schools would find certified teachers who are also certified to offer firearms safety instruction.

Rep. Patrick McDonald, a Boise Republican and retired U.S. Marshal, questioned the fiscal note Nate attached to his bill, which said passage of the bill would not cost the state any money.

McDonald predicted writing and developing curriculum and finding Fish and Game officers or other firearms instructors willing to teach 60 hours of instruction would not be free.

Rep. Patrick McDonald

“To incorporate (these courses) into schools isn’t going to be cheap,” McDonald said.

Nate replied that no schools would be required to offer the elective courses and that schools could use existing resources to pay for the class or drop other elective classes to offer the gun safety class.

“I am not a fan of unfunded mandates, this is not a mandate and there is no funding needed to be attached with it for that reason,” Nate said.

New Plymouth Republican Rep. Ryan Kerby, a retired school superintendent, said he loved the idea of offering gun safety classes, but said Nate’s bill needed more work. Kerby said he would have preferred the gun safety program be offered as a smaller unit within larger elective classes, such as P.E.

Current teacher and Boise Democratic Rep. John McCrostie led the effort to hold the bill. Chairwoman Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree, Rep. Don Cheatham, R- Post Falls, Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, Rep. Paul Amador, R-Coeur d’Alene, Rep. Hy Kloc, D-Boise, Toone, McDonald and Kerby all joined McCrostie in voting to hold the bill.

Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, Rep. Paul Shepherd, R-Riggins, Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, Rep. Ron Mendive, R- Coeur D’Alene, and Rep. Scott Syme, R-Caldwell, all opposed holding the bill.