Wednesday's front-page picture of sixth-graders learning to use handguns in their Floyd Dryden classroom was startling, to say the least. Have we gone mad? Have we already forgotten the horrifying images from Columbine, Santana, Jonesboro, Springfield, and Bethel? Guns should be kept off school grounds, even if they are unloaded.
The so-called "outdoor skills" program, sponsored jointly by the Juneau Gun Club and Floyd Dryden School, sounds like a worthwhile program overall. According to the article, all Floyd Dryden sixth-graders participated in the two-day program. Representatives from the Army National Guard, Capital City Fire and Rescue, and the Alaska State Troopers made presentations. Topics included ecology, wildlife, orientation, first-aid, and survival skills. A portion of the program dealt with shooting fundamentals and the safe handling of firearms.
Preventing injuries from firearm accidents is a laudable goal. Hunting has a legitimate place in Alaska. Young people, properly trained and supervised, should be allowed to hunt. But what do handguns have to do with hunting? And why should firearms be brought into public school classrooms?
I see no legitimate purpose or socially redeeming value in teaching and encouraging sixth-graders to use handguns. I question whether this program is really only about hunting and outdoor safety. It looks like part of the Juneau Gun Club's agenda is promoting a favorable attitude toward the possession and use of handguns, and gaining access to a captive audience of school children to do it. This is akin to the tobacco industry targeting children as future cigarette consumers.
I received weapons training in the military, and I believe proper training is important for those who want to use firearms. I do not question the right of Alaskans to hunt or to have guns in their homes, including handguns. I am not a hunter, but I grew up with a gun in my home. My father was a police officer, and a strict rule in our family was that no one could touch his service revolver. I feel strongly that handguns are not for kids, and that the safest approach for children is to keep away from handguns.
I understand that Floyd Dryden promotes abstinence as the safest approach to other risky behaviors, such as sex, alcohol, drugs, and tobacco. If the school is going to teach children about firearms, why not promote abstinence there too, at least with regard to handguns? In any event, Principal Milliron and Assistant Principal Kookish should reconsider the wisdom of bringing guns onto campus.