GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — New bills introduced in Lansing could allow Michigan schools to add firearms and hunting safety courses to their curriculum.
In the year 2000, there were more than 800,000 deer hunters in Michigan. Now, that number sits around 550,000.
During an interview with News 8 in October, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources said it expects the number of hunters to continue to drop.
“As some of those hunters in their 60s and 70s age out of hunting in the next 10 years, we’re not seeing the same level of replacement in young hunters behind them,” Chad Stewart, a deer biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, said.
Some lawmakers are attempting to increase interest in young people.
Recently, legislation was introduced in the Michigan House and Senate that would give schools the option to offer hunting and gun safety classes as an elective for 6th through 12th graders.
“This gives us an opportunity to get people back into enjoying what Michigan has to offer, and that’s really an unbelievable outdoor recreational opportunity,” State Rep. Curt VanderWall, R-Ludington, said.
The legislation requires the courses to be taught by a certified hunting instructor. Real firearms or ammunition would not be allowed into a school.
“The student could take the basic hunter’s safety instruction, the book written part of it, and then we’ll work with our local sportsman’s clubs to do the on-hands part of it,” VanderWall said.
VanderWall says once a student completes the classroom-based course and an in-person field day, they can obtain a hunting license.
Even if a student isn’t interested in hunting, sponsors of the bills say the education is still valuable.
“It’s going to save lives and keep people safe,” said State Sen. Jon Bumstead, R-North Muskegon. “They might never hunt, but at least they understand the importance of how to handle a gun or not to handle a gun.”
Steve Matthews, superintendent of Rockford Public Schools, says he believes education on safe gun usage is crucial, but he questions whether it should be a district’s responsibility.
“While this is trying to promote the positive aspects of it, I’m not sure doing it at a school is the best course of action,” Matthews said. “It seems like it should be a community or family kind of activity.”
Matthews also added that although it would be elective, schools are already busy with their mandated curriculums.
“It seems like one more thing for us to try to shoehorn into a schedule,” Matthews said.
The Michigan Department of Education is supporting Senate Bill 664.
“This bill focuses strictly on safety training, including safe storage, and at no time would firearms or ammunition be used in the training. Some schools already offer this training, and every local district in the state would continue to decide whether to use the training and whether it would be beneficial to the community,” MDE spokesperson William DiSessa said.
Senate Bill 664 has been referred to the Committee on Natural Resources and Agriculture.