A recent headline stating, “Biden admin withholding key funding for schools with hunting, archery programs,” caused my phone to start ringing. As a Michigan Hunter Safety instructor, many of my colleagues were concerned that federal funding for the program was being eliminated. Although my state doesn’t have many school-related hunter safety classes, many states still teach important safety classes during the school year. These are the classes in which young and old hunters learn not to shoot toward people, houses, and livestock. The headline made no sense, so a deeper dive into the facts revealed a much clearer picture.
U.S. Senators John Cornyn (R – Texas) and Thom Tillis (R – North Carolina) co-wrote the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCCA) that became law in 2022. The act has language that prohibits the use of federal funds to provide “training in the use of a dangerous weapon.” They have written U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona to say that was not what the bill intended as there is a huge difference between learning to correctly shoot a bow (or how to safely handle a hunting rifle or shotgun) and using a dangerous weapon.
In the context of a hunter safety class or an in-school archery league, these are certainly not “weapons.” We hear of assault weapons, weapons of mass destruction, and weapons of war. When a criminal raises a handgun toward a police officer, you will hear the law enforcement officer yell, “Drop your weapon!” As we commonly use the term, weapons are devices that criminals commonly use to carry out their crimes. A weapon can also be deemed as something one might use in self-defense. An archer or even a clay target shooter would never consider themselves as holding a weapon. Members of the Biden administration most certainly misinterpreted the language in the bill.
Throughout the nation, hunter safety classes, as well as many in-school archery programs, are funded by the Pittman-Roberson Act and receive no money from the federal government. Although the U.S. Secretary of Education has yet to respond to the misinterpretation, many schools that offer these programs see no cause for alarm. The programs, being separately funded, are not at risk for defunding by the BSCCA, nor are the normal academic course offerings.
As Jennifer Pittman, Georgia’s DNR hunter development program manager and the Georgia National Archery in Schools Coordinator, states, “This is new legislation, and we don’t know a lot. We’re waiting to hear from the Department of Education. It is our plan as of right now to continue both programs.”
The one billion dollars in grants that the BSCCA provides are geared toward preventing and responding to acts of bullying, violence, and hate that impact school communities. It should have nothing to do with eliminating teaching a youngster certain safety skills they will use for the rest of their lives. The nation waited for the response from the U.S. Secretary of Education, Mr. Cardona. There was plenty of time to tell the nation that he misinterpreted the language and that teaching our nation’s youth to be safe is of the utmost importance. However, since the Department of Education has not rectified the issue, Congress is taking action.
Congressman Green (R- Tenn) introduced H.R. 5110 to amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to clarify that the prohibition on the use of Federal education funds for certain weapons does not apply to the use of such weapons for training in archery, hunting, or other shooting sports.
As America faces an ever-growing threat of gun misuse, we can only hope that Mr. Green’s attempt to protect firearm safety education is successful. The unanimous Senate passage of H.R. 5110 comes shortly after the House passed the bill Tuesday night on an impressive vote of 424 – 1. It’s now up to the President to lead the nation in a quest for firearm safety and sign the bill into law.
Education is always a good thing. Removing funding for education and hoping that people will figure out gun safety on their own is ridiculous.
Jack Ammerman is a Michigan writer. As a hunter and shooting sports enthusiast, he is involved with education and the safe use of firearms on a daily basis. He supports the right of Americans to own guns for self-defense. He has produced firearm safety television commercials and writes a firearm column for Michigan Out of Doors.