SALT LAKE CITY — Some of Utah's top educators aren't sold on the idea of teaching gun safety in schools.

Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, got concerned reactions from members of the State School Board on Thursday about his bill to create an optional pilot program to teach gun safety and violence prevention to eighth-graders.

Board member Leslie Castle said it's unclear what kind of impact the program would have on students, especially those who are unfamiliar with firearms, making the program "experimental."

"What you're asking (us) to do," Castle said, "is implement something into a school that you don't know works or not, and using time and money to do that instead of maybe driving the research to find something that is effective."

Another board member, Brittney Cummins, said the program would add to what is already a long list of responsibilities for educators and would take time away from other priorities.

"We all want our children to be safe and to understand the risks," Cummins said. "My question is we keep coming back to education, school, as that place to fix all of our social woes and to fix all of our problems. What we lack most in education is time and resources.

"Firearm safety is, to me, a community issue, a family issue," she said.

SB43 would set aside $75,000 from the general fund that could be used to teach a course, conduct assemblies or even create a video to instruct students on what to do if they find a firearm. Guns would not be used in the instruction.

The program would be optional for both schools and students.

The Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee voted unanimously in favor of Weiler's bill Wednesday.

The board did not take an official position on the bill Thursday.

Weiler said he's still open to making amendments to make the bill more amenable to educators. One possible change would include provisions to collect data measuring whether the pilot program is effective in educating students on gun safety.

The senator said he understands educators' concerns but that the program would not detract from normal class time and would be a step toward preventing accidental shooting deaths among children.

"Kids are dying right now, so that's what's motivating me," Weiler said. "I personally don't think telling kids to not touch a gun, treat it as if it's loaded and reminding them that they're dangerous, I don't know that that's experimenting. It's just good wisdom."

Email: mjacobsen@deseretnews.com

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