Remember when Horlick High School and Mitchell Middle School had gun ranges with live firearms in the building?
You might not, since it was decades ago. But classes were offered.
Years before the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School and the more than 225 school shootings since then, having a gun range built into a school’s basement and real firearms used as teaching materials was not particularly abnormal.
“At the time, the U.S. Army was encouraging these things, and they supplied us with the rifles,” he said, adding that students who learned at the gun range would often compete as part of rifle teams. “Our main purpose was to teach gun safety, and hunting was a big thing during that time.”
Waterford’s Maddy Bernau always dreamed about going to the Olympics.
High schools statewide would be able to offer a gun safety course under a Republican-written bill that came before an Assembly Education Committee for a public hearing Wednesday.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, a former state superintendent and educator who has encouraged the Legislature to pass gun control legislation, would almost certainly veto the bill; his office did not immediately reply to a request for comment on this story.
The bill would require the state superintendent to create a curriculum that includes information on the different types and mechanisms of firearms and ammunition, the principles of firearm safety, the location of safety devices, how to load and unload a gun, how to engage safety devices, and how to carry and transport a gun.
Bill co-author Rep. Treig Pronschinske, R-Mondovi, said Wednesday the bill would lead to proper gun usage and fewer dangerous gun incidents.
“Critics of the bill have said that we should not educate kids on firearms because it could be dangerous,” Pronschinske said. “This is ridiculous. We educate youth on drugs and sex. We certainly don’t want kids to try heroin or to have unintended pregnancies. Education is key to safety and is almost in every aspect of life.”
Under the federal Gun-Free Schools Act, guns on K-12 campuses are prohibited and punishable by at least a one-year expulsion. Pronschinske said Wednesday, however, the class would use replica guns, not real guns.
In response, Rep. Dave Considine, D-Baraboo, said: “The next thing I’m going to hear is that we have to offer farm safety and have tractors be driven around in a course at school to make sure farmers are safe.”
Under the bill, schools would be able to avoid offering a gun course by adopting a resolution to opt out of it.
That provision led the Wisconsin Association of School Boards to oppose the bill even though the group has supported similar bills without that provision.
Several other school associations lobbied against the bill, including the Wisconsin Council for Administrators of Special Services and Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators, though no representatives from those organizations appeared or shared testimony at the hearing Wednesday.
Wisconsin Gun Owners, the sole lobbying group supporting the bill, said, “Educating our youth in the safe handling, storage, use of firearms, and historic right to bear arms is necessary for the cultivation of the proper culture and respect for firearms.”
A similar bill came up in 2017 when Republicans controlled the Legislature and governor’s office but did not pass. Unlike the current bill, the 2017 bill explicitly prohibited live ammunition and did not include the opt-out provision.
Rep. Sondy Pope, D-Mount Horeb, questioned how the firearm course could be a semester long as the legislators suggested, and wondered why it would be a four-credit class.
“I just can’t imagine how an entire semester is spent doing this for credit. It just seems kind of ridiculous to me,” she said.
Police etiquette course
Another Republican-authored bill brought before the Assembly Education Committee Wednesday would require the state superintendent to create a fifth- through 12th-grade course on how to interact with law enforcement “with mutual cooperation and respect.”
Bill co-author Rep. André Jacque, R-De Pere, argued Wednesday that many negative interactions between students and officers resulted from misunderstandings on proper etiquette.
“When things go wrong with an interaction between law enforcement and youth, the price that we pay for that, I mean, there’s no — there’s no going back with some of the catastrophic things that can occur,” Jacque said.
The Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance opposed the bill, writing that the organization saw it as an “unfunded mandate.” Several school associations also opposed the bill.
The Wisconsin State Lodge Fraternal Order of Police and Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association supported it.
Democratic committee member LaKeshia Myers, D-Milwaukee, said the bill does not consider that compliance does not always mend situations people have with police, especially when it comes to black people.
She said Wednesday: “You can be compliant and you still may not make it home.”
In response, Jacque said, “there shouldn’t be racial stereotyping by law enforcement officers, just as I don’t think that there should be a stereotyping of how (an officer) conducts his job.”
Wisconsin Fraternal Order of Police President Ryan Windorff said Wednesday that the class could mitigate the fear that citizens have toward police, which he said makes policing more difficult.
“Virtually every single recent high-profile incident of a bad encounter with law enforcement was exacerbated by a citizen unnecessarily escalating the situation,” Windorff said.Like the gun education bill, school districts could opt out of the law enforcement etiquette course under a bill provision.
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