The idea for a firearms program in local schools may have some traction, but Loudon County Board of Education members expressed uncertainty on what the end result might look like if they decided to move forward on a course for students.
During a board workshop Thursday, BOE member Craig Simon initially raised the question as to whether gun safety was “outside the scope of what we do as a school board.”
“It pains me to say that, but I don’t think this is part of what we do,” Simon said.
BOE Chairman Scott Newman said he was in favor of implementing some form of gun safety program. However, guidelines would need to be set by the school board. He said he was not in favor of allowing Loudon County Sheriff’s Office school resource officers to teach the lessons.
He said students today have become desensitized by violence in video games and "don’t realize the damage that a gun does."
“First and foremost it’s a parental responsibility,” Jeremy Buckles, board member, said. “It starts at home. It doesn’t matter what we teach in our school system; it starts at home. There’s easy ways to include basic firearm safety into our regular elementary and middle school curriculum. We already teach them to wear a bike helmet, don’t go with strangers.
"Why not teach them don’t touch mommy and daddy’s gun?" Buckles added. "If you go over to Billy’s house, and he brings out a gun, make sure you tell somebody. You don’t play with that. They’re very dangerous. They can hurt people.”
Loudon County Commissioner Van Shaver initially brought the idea up last month through an open letter to the board. In a previous interview, Shaver said a course could be taught to students from elementary to high school but left the details to be decided by the school board.
Some BOE members expressed hesitancy, pointing to potential liability concerns.
“If you do it or work with the community, keep a wall between what the schools do and how that is sponsored,” Gary Ubben, school board member, said, noting he had spoken to local attorneys on the issue. “You can use the school to disseminate information, but don’t pay the instructors, don’t run it through the school accounts. For liability purposes, keep it separate.”
Board member Leroy Tate said the program, if started, should be conducted either after school or during a weekend.
A focus could be placed on “core principles” of gun safety in school, and an after-school program could still be offered, Buckles said.
“That’s really where we can have a difference, but otherwise after-school programs (on) firearm safety — after school that’s open to the community and the students. That’s something we can do,” he said.
Board member Kenny Ridings, a certified instructor for hunter education through Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, said the BOE should speak to TWRA to see if a program can be offered after school.
Ubben agreed with Ridings.
“I think the safety of our children is very important and should be important to us,” he said.
Preventing a loss of instructional time will also play a part in the decision-making, according to school officials.
Director of Schools Jason Vance said he didn’t know if it was “appropriate” to take time away from the seven hours of time in the classroom.
“It’s probably more appropriate to offer these things in the after-school type of a program to where we’re excluding ourselves from some of the liability issues but still offering an opportunity for kids to be involved in that sort of thing,” Vance said. “I believe in Second Amendment rights. I’ve got a permit myself and certainly believe that all kids need to have gun safety at some level, but don’t necessarily know that it’s appropriate in the seven hours of instructional time that we’ve got in school, minus through opportunities through DARE and things of that nature.”
David Twiggs, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America local representative, attended the meeting and briefly touched on a SMART program his organization promotes, noting it is endorsed by the National Parent Teacher Association. The program, which takes its name from a multi-sentence acronym, is to be implemented by Parent Teacher Associations with an emphasis on getting parents involved.
In a follow-up interview, Newman said he believed the idea had some traction, and he planned to continue considering the program.
“I’d like to see us partner up with this SMART and get some information out to our parents too,” Newman said. “I think it’s something we need to really be proactive about but not just in feet first and do a bunch of stuff that’s going to — the biggest thing is safety, teaching them how to be safe and stuff like that. I think that we’ll find out that there’s a lot of people in the community, and there’s a lot of programs we’ve not really looked at or touched at yet, so that’s up to us to kind of start looking at that stuff.”