By Sarah Elmquist Squires

Managing Editor

Is hunter education a necessary component of keeping kids safe in the world, or “dangerous weapon training” that should be curbed? 

While the answer in Wyoming might be a no-brainer, federal officials are embroiled in a battle over federal education funds, with the Biden administration’s interpretation of last year’s gun control bill blocking federal funds for school hunting and archery programs. 

Wyoming is pushing back, with federal leaders arguing firearm safety helps decrease firearm-related injuries and accidents. 

 Riverton brings hunter ed to school

Fremont County School District #25 leaders lauded a new hunter safety program that will commence later this year for Riverton Middle School (RMS) students interested in taking the course after school. 

“One of the things we’re striving to do at the middle school is just offer more and more opportunities for kids to get involved,” RMS Principal Aziz Waheed told the board earlier this month. Over the last year, RMS has added archery, fly fishing, and Lego clubs, and this year’s new offerings will include hunter safety as well as welding for even more opportunities for students to explore their interests. 

Waheed, along with eighth-grade science teacher Brady Samuelson and RMS Assistant Principal Tyler Jordan will teach the course after working with Wyoming Game and Fish officials to develop the extra-curricular coursework, which will include a field test using replica rifles on loan from Game and Fish. “They don’t have firing pins; they’re not weaponized,” Waheed told the board. 

Students who complete the course and field test will be certified in hunter safety. Wyoming residents born after January 1, 1966, are required to pass a hunter education course to legally hunt in the state. 

“Hunter safety is a big part of kids in our county,” Waheed explained. “It’s a big part of trying to get kids off of devices and off the computer screens, and just get out and enjoy things we have in the area.” 

Waheed told the board that if the course goes smoothly this fall, RMS will consider opening up the after-school course to fifth graders in the spring. It’s not uncommon for kids to encounter firearms at friends’ houses and other settings in Fremont County, he explained. “Knowing what to do safely is a huge part of this,” he stated. “Our business is education, so we want to just go a little [differently] than just our traditional curriculum.”

“I think it’s awesome because it is a huge part of our culture in our community, and kids need that – it’s hard to get hunter safety,” commented School Board Vice Chair Lynette Jeffres. 

Federal fight

Biden’s administration has interpreted language in the 2022 Safer Communities Act to include possible cuts to funding for school programs on hunter education, marking them as providing “dangerous weapon training.” 

While it’s unlikely that the federal dispute over the language would have any impact on after-school programs like the one underway at RMS, the idea that hunter ed should be viewed as “dangerous weapon training” and blocked for funding prompted U.S. Sen. John Barrasso to lead a group of 18 Republican Senators in urging President Biden to back down on the stance. 

“While the administration claims to be eliminating dangerous activities, this guidance will, in fact, have the opposite effect,” they wrote in a letter penned August 11. “These programs provided thousands of students with the opportunity to learn proper instruction for firearm and archery safety … Learning to safely handle firearms results in a decrease in firearm-related injuries and accidents. In fact, hunter education programs have decreased hunting accidents by over 50% since the program’s development over 50 years ago. By including hunter education in schools, students are given the tools to be safe and responsible hunters.” 

The 2022 Safer Communities Act was passed with bipartisan support, but Barrasso, along with U.S. Senatur Cynthia Lummis, wrote that the Biden Administration’s interpretation of the rules go too far. In April, the U.S. Department of Education provided “guidance” prohibiting Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) funds for hunter ed and archery programs, dubbing them “dangerous weapon training.” 

“The Biden administration’s purposeful misinterpretation of the gun control bill is attempting to take away valuable programs from students across the country,” Barrasso, Lummis, and their colleagues wrote. “We call on the Biden administration to immediately withdraw the guidance and support these essential programs.”