Education is so important to Americans that we mandate every child attend school. We willfully pay taxes so that every kid has an opportunity to receive 13 years of free public education. Our society has decided every new American should have access to the tools necessary to succeed in life-education. 

We teach children how to safely drive a car. We teach them sex education, how to protect them from poisons and more, none of which are rights guaranteed in our Constitution, like the right to own firearms.

When I was young, living in Clinton, firearm safety was taught in our town hall.  When hunting season came in the fall, I would carry my shotgun to class, where I would turn it over to my teacher, who would return it at the end of the day. 

Those days are gone forever; if you so much as mention to a teacher, or most lawmakers, the concept of teaching a child in our public schools about firearm safety, the door is slammed in your face before the discussion even begins. That’s ironic considering the foundation of early childhood firearm education is predicated on these simple principles: STOP! Don’t Touch. Run Away. Tell a Grown-up.

The very people who slam the door on firearm education in our public schools are the same ones who will demand our kids learn about birth control, abortion, and how to protect themselves from contracting sexually transmitted diseases.  The thing is, none of these social issues are less important than the others, they are all important to teach and all can severely impact the lives of our kids — just like a firearm accident.

We know how well abstinence works. So why do we allow this important education to be withheld from students? What exactly are people afraid of?

The answer to those questions is a combination of fear, politics and, for some, lack of education. When you examine the social and geographical lines that divide gun control advocates from gun rights proponents, two stark lines start to emerge. Most gun control advocates, including legislators, come from cities, where guns are mostly associated with crime.

The majority of gun rights advocates come from rural communities where guns are an important component to home protection, hunting and recreational shooting. They are two completely different cultures as it relates to guns and their use. 

The line is not just urban vs. rural; most heavily populated communities are represented by Democrats while most rural areas are represented by Republicans.  And this political and social dynamic is not unique to Maine; it is occurring all over the country.

This glaringly different perception of firearms by Democrats and Republicans has created an ever-shifting political policy debate based not on substance but who’s in the majority at the State House. That dynamic has never been any more pronounced than this year, as Democrats dominate the State House with strong majorities in both chambers and the governorship.

Some now see their opportunity to shove gun control down the throats of gun owners — not so fast! Democrats, particularly blue dog Democrats from rural and suburban districts, own guns and hunt too. They also understand and appreciate our state’s deep commitment to gun safety and the culture that surrounds it. Many of these same blue dogs understand our long history of firearm safety; as an example, it might surprise gun control advocates that gun owners embrace firearm education. 

In order to hunt in Maine, new hunters are required to take a mandatory four-day hunter safety course. As a result, hunting accidents and fatalities have plummeted. According to a Press Herald article from Dec. 14, 2015, there were 371 hunting accidents and 39 fatalities in Maine in the 1970s, but only 93 accidents and six fatalities from 2000 to 2009.

This decline in hunting accidents is not a fluke — thousands of firearm owners and parents have become volunteer instructors to teach firearm safety to kids as soon as they are able to comprehend it. We pass on this culture of safety to the next generation because it is our responsibility and we genuinely care about the lives of our young people — not because we are forced by the government through new regulations, but because it is the right thing to do. 

So why is firearm safety a taboo in schools, when it should part of all public safety education? The answer is partly fear, as some teachers and some legislators do not understand firearms or how to teach firearm safety. They need education themselves, and to do that, they would have to open their minds. 

In order to move forward with gun safety education that would reach enough kids to save lives, teachers and legislators must first recognize their jobs is not to keep kids in the dark about the dangers around them, but instead to give kids all the tools and education they need to make good decisions. 

 

David Trahan of Waldoboro, a former state legislator, is executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine. This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of that organization.


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