The Honorable Casper R. Taylor, Jr.
Speaker of the House
Annapolis MD 21401
Dear Mr. Speaker:
In accordance with Article II, Section 17 of the Maryland Constitution, I have today vetoed House Bill 791 - Education- Public Schools- Firearms Safety and Accident Prevention and Education Program.
During the 2001 Session of the General Assembly, several bills were introduced to create a mandatory gun safety program in our public schools. I indicated my support for the creation of a responsible gun safety education program as a component of a school's health education curriculum, which was contained in Senate Bill 124. As introduced, Senate Bill 124 represented a rational approach to the very sensitive issue of teaching our children about gun safety. The legislation, appropriately named for John Joseph Price, would have required each public school to have a mandatory gun safety education program as part of its health education instruction. The program could have been tailored to meet the unique needs of each school system and could have been based on multiple existing programs. The State Board of Education would have been responsible for approving the program.
Like many Marylanders, I have long been concerned about the tragic impact that gun violence and accidental shootings have on our communities and, most importantly, our children. In the 2000 Session of the General Assembly, I sponsored, and the General Assembly passed, child safety legislation that has placed Maryland in the forefront of the national effort to reduce gun violence, especially among our youth. The debate in the 2000 Session highlighted the need to protect children from the inherent danger associated with firearms. Part of that need can be met through proper education.
It is with some regret that I must veto House Bill 791 based on changes made to it and similar bills in the legislative process. I especially regret that this veto may compound the disappointment of advocates who have invested a tremendous amount of personal time in this effort and who have experienced personal tragedy related to firearms. Their efforts to enact a responsible bill resulted in a bill that may do some good; but I believe that there are provisions in the bill that run counter to the goal of gun safety education.
Particularly disturbing to me is the provision in the final version of the bill that permits a county board to implement a program for students in grades 7 through 12 that involves "the display or handling of ammunition and an actual handgun, rifle, shotgun, or other firearm at The Honorable Casper R. Taylor, Jr. May 17, 2001 Page Two an established sport shooting range." I have reservations about explicitly sanctioning, and arguably encouraging, the sending of bus loads of 13 year-old boys and girls to a shooting range to handle real guns and ammunition. For many young impressionable children, handling weapons in this setting may lead to a heightened interest and contribute to the glorification of guns in our society. I believe that other provisions of the bill that prohibit the display and handling of ammunition or firearms on school premises represent a safer and more appropriate approach to teaching students about gun safety.
In addition, I prefer the original provisions of Senate Bill 124, which required the teaching of gun safety within the health education program, to the final version of House Bill 791, which allows a county board to implement its gun safety program in conjunction with "a community or civic organization," such as the National Rifle Association. Once a policy is established to require the teaching of gun safety, or any other mandated curriculum, it should be the responsibility of the teachers to conduct the instruction. While it is certainly appropriate to integrate law enforcement officers or other members of the community into this type of instruction, or in the teaching of any subject, the flexibility given to a county board to teach this subject "in conjunction" with another entity goes too far.
Throughout this process, teachers and school administrators have raised concerns about the demands that requiring gun safety education would place on the schools and the teachers. For the most part, however, I believe these professionals would have accepted the responsibility that would have accompanied the implementation of other versions of this and similar bills. Provisions in the final version of the bill, particularly the removal of the gun safety program from the health education curriculum (as embodied in Senate Bill 124) in favor of the establishment of a separate program, the potential involvement of outside entities, and the probability of organizing field trips to shooting ranges, have prompted teachers and administrators to request a veto of this bill.
The goal of teaching children about the inherent danger associated with firearms is a laudable one. I sincerely appreciate the efforts of the sponsors and gun safety advocates to develop a gun safety education program. Unfortunately, the final version of the bill does not create the type of program that should be used in our schools. I look forward to working with the sponsor and the advocates to craft a bill that meets the concerns expressed in this letter.
For the above reasons, I have vetoed House Bill 791.
Parris N. Glendening