Wisconsin lawmakers argue over gun safety classes in high schools

Democrats and Republicans sparred over a proposed bill Thursday that calls for the Department of Public Instruction to help create a firearms education course for Wisconsin high schools.

The heated debate over Assembly Bill 427 took place at a hearing before the Committee on Education in the Wisconsin Assembly, the Associated Press reported. The measure aims to have the state superintendent collaborate with the Department of Natural Resources, law enforcement or other agencies to help develop the firearms safety course.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep Ken Skowronski, said Wisconsin school districts, which already have the authority to offer firearms safety classes on their own, need guidance in developing course curriculum as trap and target shooting are becoming more popular.

“More and more students are get involved in clay target and action shooting clubs and associations while in school, it’s important to ensure that these students become more responsible in understanding firearm safety and mechanics.” Rep. Skowronski said in a statement, after he proposed the bill in June.

But Democrats at the hearing said students carrying guns to school would upset community members, even as live ammunition would still be banned in the classroom and schools would not be required to offer the course under the bill.

“No teacher, no janitor, no student knows for a fact that gun isn’t loaded,” Rep. Gary Hebl said. “There are so many problems with this.”

Rep. Sondy Pope echoed Hebl’s argument, saying students could hide ammunition in their bags and then load their guns at school.

Skowronski reiterated the purpose of his proposal, aimed to help educate high school trap and target shooting teams in firearms safety.

Co-sponsor Rep. Joel Kleefisch noted the bill aligned with Wisconsin’s tradition of guns and hunting and goaded those opposed, saying some in the crowd would probably love to melt all firearms down into a “heap of metal.” He added that the courses may encourage children to work in the gun manufacturing industry, a comment that drew audible snickers from some in the crowd.

One trap shooting teenager, 16-year-old Georgia Pantzlaff of Denmark High School, testified before the committee and said firearms safety courses are few and far between for teens.

“I’ve seen kids who don’t know how to handle a gun, and that’s when I’m more scared,” she said. “Kids don’t get a chance to be around guns so they know how to treat a gun properly.”

Her father and Denmark trap shooting coach, Andy Pantzlaff, said instructors could figure out a way to make the course safe for everyone, offering to use replica firearms or remove firing pins from the students’ guns.

The Madison school district, Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort, and League of Women Voters all opposed the bill, while the Safari Club and Wisconsin FORCE expressed support.

The measure has not yet come to a vote in committee.