Loudon County Commissioner Van Shaver, through an open letter to the Loudon County Board of Education, is calling for a gun safety program to be taught to all students in elementary, middle and high schools.
Shaver said he thought of the idea for a new program a couple weeks ago.
“I ... preface that I’m not requesting this as a county commissioner,” Shaver said. “I’m coming as a parent and a grandparent and someone who is just interested in the safety of all the children. I don’t want it to get turned into a political thing of some kind — county commissioner trying to dictate to the school board members. That’s not it at all. It has no political ramifications of any kind.”
Shaver said he would leave the details of such a program up to the school board, but the main purpose would be to inform students what to do if they come across a firearm in the absence of adults.
“The main thing that you want to teach them is that if you see a gun and there’s no adult, don’t touch it, get away from it, tell somebody,” Shaver said. “Just that would be the very basics at the youngest ages and then age appropriately if they get into middle school, then you give them a little more information about weapons of all kinds. You get into high school you could even ratchet it up a little bit farther, but I think the main thing is so many children nowadays just don’t know anything.
“You have parents that aren’t familiar with weapons and guns and stuff and may not have guns, but the children still may be exposed to them in a setting that the parents wouldn’t be aware of,” he added. “So, if they could have just the most basic of understanding that a firearm can be a dangerous thing if they don’t know what to do.”
'Logical' starting point
Shaver suggested having Loudon County Sheriff’s Office school resource officers teach lessons and treat the program like Drug Abuse Resistance Education, noting that allowing SROs to teach would be “the most logical place to start.” He said the program could be taught a few times per year.
Allowing SROs to teach students may not be the best idea because it would take the officers “out of that element” from their regular security duties and potentially put students in harm's way, Loudon County Sheriff Tim Guider said.
“Our main purpose of being in the schools is for safety — safety for the students and staff,” Guider said. “When you take the SRO out of that element and put him in a classroom environment, then you’re exposing the security of the school.”
Guider said an officer could potentially fill in for the SRO while instruction took place, adding that, in theory, he would be in favor of the new program.
“Now, a lot of families, the pro Second Amendment people, they probably or should teach their children about firearms at a younger age, a young age probably, and familiarize themselves with their functions and consequences,” Guider said.
School board members plan to talk about the topic at the next workshop, Vance said, which is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Feb. 4 at the county office building.
BOE Chairman Scott Newman said Shaver “certainly got a fire started” with the recommendation, and he could see the reasoning behind having a firearms course available to students. He said he would prefer a school official like Tom Hankinson, Loudon County Schools career and technical education coordinator, who served as a U.S. Marine, teach students rather than a law enforcement officer.
“Mr. Shaver has a pretty good idea, but he’s just kind of said, ‘Why don’t we do it?’” Newman said. “Is he going to suggest that he give us more money to train some people up, train our folks on that? There’s a huge liability right there.”
Guider said if the program were to come to fruition, the course would need to be both “parent-friendly, student-friendly and effective.”
“My first thoughts here — and I certainly would be open to recommendations or suggestions — (is) that we would maybe do that in a assembly type format where you would have not just one classroom at a time,” Guider said. “We catch a lot of people, a lot of children at the same time and it wouldn’t be overwhelming. I think it would be something that would be reasonably short but understandable — brief but understandable.”
Shaver said he envisioned the program would not be required for all students if parents felt the need to opt out.
“... When you start dealing with somebody’s babies and talk to them about guns, I mean some people just don’t like it,” Newman said. “Some people don’t want their kids to be around that. It’s just one of those things that we’ve got to be careful” about.
Another idea is for the program to be offered for two or three weeks after school, which would allow parents to decide whether they want their child to participate, Newman said.
“With all the curriculum changes and everything going on, I mean when are you going to find time to add that on a regular day?” Newman said. “He (Shaver) certainly has got a fire started with all that.”
Loudon Police Department does not educate the general public on gun safety, but that may soon change. Police Chief James Webb said he has spoken with officers about adding a civilian marksmanship program based out of Anniston, Ala.
“A whole lot of that’s got to do with firearm safety, and so yeah, it’s something that we’ve talked around about ...," Webb said. "I can’t really say that we’ve done anything except for discuss the possibility of how we could organize something like that."
While Webb said he did not know much about the program yet, the school course could be designed to better educate youth about guns and safety.
“I think maybe with some of the events that have occurred lately and some of the other issues that have been brought up, it’s probably something that we probably need to devote some of our time to and see if we can make it happen,” Webb said.
Lenoir City Police Chief Don White said his department has discussed adding a gun safety course for residents.
“We would want to open it up to our residents, and so we would probably possibly try to start a pilot program, and ammunition expense is the biggest cost,” White said. “I mean we have firearms instructors here at the police department, so that would not be the cost. But our training would probably consist of 100-150 rounds of ammunition. So it would probably end up costing somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 to $75 per student.”
White said offering the course will depend on whether it was paid through the police department or funded through instruction fees.
“Obviously, we want to try to provide training and create as much a safe environment as possible for our citizens, and a lot of folks have weapons in their homes, and they have the possibility of a child getting a hold of a weapon like we saw in the news where the young child shot their sibling while in the vehicle without any supervision,” White said. “I mean we would just want to — we want to get as much training as we can out to the general public where we never have a tragedy like that here in the city.”