RICHMOND, Va. — Senator Tommy Norment recently filed a bill that proposes that all school divisions in Virginia should offer firearm safety classes for students.
The bill, SB 129, would require the Board of Education to work with the Department of Criminal Justice Services to establish curriculum guidelines for the program.
If the bill were passed and enacted, school boards in the Commonwealth would have to offer a minimum of two hours of firearm safety instruction. The classes must also be taught by a school resource officer, law enforcement officer or a U.S. Armed Forces instructor.
If you're questioning whether students would use real firearms, it might put you at ease to learn that the use of actual guns or weapons would be prohibited in the program.
Gun proponents argue there is no downside to education.
"Firearms are very much part of the American culture and they're around, they're going to be around and you want children to understand the basics," said Philip Van Cleave, President of the Virginia Citizens Defense League. "They don't have to be a gun owner but they should at least be able to properly handle a firearm if you ever had to do it."
Senator Norment said he thinks education plays an important part in gun safety.
“The vast majority of gun-related deaths nationwide are self-inflicted and, as a graduate of VMI, I understand the importance proper education and training plays in firearm safety," Senator Norment said. "Currently there are eleven states, including Virginia, that encourage local school boards to promote firearm safety."
State law already allows local school boards to create and provide firearm safety education for students in elementary grades. However, the law doesn't specify who may instruct those classes.
The deadline to introduce bills to the General Assembly is a little more than a week after lawmakers convene for the 2020 session. The General Assembly convenes on Wednesday, Jan. 8 and the last day to introduce a bill is on Friday, Jan. 17.
"In the 2010 session, the General Assembly adopted legislation giving school boards the option to have firearm safety programs," said Norment in a statement. "Senate Bill 129 would require two hours of gun safety instruction annually in grades K-12. It should be noted that Virginia schools are already required to provide instruction on the dangers of drugs, alcohol, and substance abuse. My focus is to ensure that Virginia students have an understanding of firearm safety, as well."
The Commonwealth is in a state of turmoil over a legislative package of gun control bills that are set to be voted on during this next session. Some of these bills propose universal background checks, limiting the number of gun purchases per month and red flag laws.
Gun safety advocates argue gun locks are the only way to protect children, not mandatory education.
"There are areas in the state where gun ownership is not the norm and parents may not want children to be exposed to guns and the idea of gun ownership in this way," said Lindsay Nichols, Federal Policy Director of Giffords Law Center. "It should really be up to the adults to properly lock up their guns and if they want, talk to their kids about guns. It shouldn’t be mandatory throughout the state for this to be part of the curriculum."
In a majority-Democratic House and Senate, many expect that most of these bills will be passed.
Many Virginia localities, including Chesapeake, Gloucester County, Mathews County and Isle of Wight have passed Second Amendment sanctuary resolutions to protest these bills, citing that citizens' constitutional gun rights will be threatened.
Governor Northam says these resolutions won't stop him from passing "common sense" gun laws and Attorney General Mark Herring has noted that despite the opposition, any gun control bills that become laws will be enforced.