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Originally published Tuesday, May 1, 2012 at 9:06 PM

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Both sides fire away at idea of gun education in the schools

Some liberals and conservatives rally against a suggestion to teach firearm safety in schools, but there is hope it could happen.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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Last week, when I wrote that we are so awash in guns we may as well teach gun safety in the schools, people across the political spectrum had fainting spells.

Conservatives because I was suggesting this. Some liberals because anyone was suggesting this.

"You could've pushed me over with a feather," wrote Larry Simoneaux, who has a weekly column in The Herald in Everett and devoted it to his shock that a published view out of the republic of Seattle wasn't reflexively anti-gun.

"It's a very bad idea," countered David Marshak, an education professor, formerly at Seattle University. He cited the danger of bringing even a training gun to school and his sense that "the majority of the population won't want their kids to have gun ed."

Echoed reader Judy Thomas: "The idea that firearm education is the answer is simply a non-starter. If anybody should know gun safety it is the police, and they have a poor record of keeping their firearms away from even their own children."

Mostly, people just said I was naive (as usual!).

"You are dreaming if you think the public schools will teach gun safety," wrote Matthew Moore, a former Eastside gun instructor. "They are run by Liberals and Democrats and the teachers' union. They react to gun safety training the same way that hard-right religious people react to sex education, except more so."

There's truth to that. We are now one of the most heavily armed states (according to gun-permit counts). Some object to gun classes on the grounds they only endorse this arms race.

Which is the same type of argument the "abstinence-only" crowd uses — that sex ed promotes more sex.

So it was a welcome news flash, to me anyway, when the liberal, Democratic and teachers-union-endorsed head of the state Senate Education Committee called to say she's all in for the gun-classes idea.

"I'm not a gun person, but guns are here to stay and you can't prohibit them," said Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell. "Shouldn't our kids know what to do when they see one?"

McAuliffe has introduced a resolution for the state to promote the use of the National Rifle Association's Gun Safety Program in schools. She co-sponsored it with some gun-rights conservatives, such as Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn. (It was introduced near the end of the last legislative session and won't be up for a vote until next year.)

The basic premise is on gun safety, not how to shoot. The NRA's course for the littlest kids, in elementary schools, doesn't include actual guns. It teaches them what to do if they're ever around a gun (stop, don't touch, leave the area, tell an adult).

McAuliffe says she's been haunted by the issue since her then 10-year-old son handled a gun on a play date at another family's house.

"I picked him up and he said 'Mom, we had a gun.' I was terrified by that," she says.

That was decades ago. But the drive to regulate guns never seemed to go anywhere (including her own bills to mandate gun lockboxes). She began to think we could at least show kids how real guns aren't like the ones they see in video games.

I had gun training as a kid. I worked at a skeet range, loading clay pigeons to be flung into the air by a trap machine. In time, the adults taught me how to shoot.

All it takes is one shotgun recoil against your bony 14-year-old shoulder and you know, for life, that guns are not toys.

McAuliffe knows she's creeping into a mine field. In the past, gun-control groups have charged the NRA uses these safety programs to lure children into gun ownership. So she's made her proposal voluntary.

"But I don't have any qualms about working with the NRA," she said.

See? Maybe this won't go anywhere. But at least, for once, not everyone's locked into their usual partisan positions.

Danny Westneat's column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com.

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About Danny Westneat

Danny Westneat takes an opinionated look at the Puget Sound region's news, people and politics. Send tips or comments to dwestneat@seattletimes.com. His column runs Wednesday and Sunday.
dwestneat@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2086

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