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West Virginia Considering Giving Middle Schoolers Rifles?

By January 31, 2008One Comment

You’ve got to be kidding me. With all the issues with kids bringing guns to school, they’re doing this? West Virginia wants to bring back hunting education in their middle schools. Yeah, okay. That’s just a wonderful idea! The supporters of the plan below say that they would teach kids other things besides hunting skills, such as how to whittle a stick, apparently, claiming that that’s something today’s youth need to know how to do. Absolutely vital! Shoot, the last stick I whittled was a pencil. And that was years ago before I had mechanical pencils. And it was with an electric pencil sharpener, too. Anyway, the whole reason they’re considering bringing this back is because there’s a declining number of people in West Virginia getting hunting licenses. Anyone ever consider that’s because, on the contrary, there’s an increasing number of cars on the road these days and there’s more roadkill than ever? That’s the West Virginia equivalent of going to a butcher shop. Why kill the cow when you can select the best cut of meat and cook it right on up? Wait, I didn’t say that, did I?

A bill introduced by a Wyoming County [West Virginia] senator could bring hunter education back to the state’s middle schools.

“It’s about time,” said hunter-education instructor Don Shumake. “I got a big smile on my face and clipped it out of the newspaper.”

Children would be instructed in everything from survival skills to gun safety, but the guns would either have dummy ammunition or be disabled. Sen. Billy Wayne Bailey, who introduced the bill, doesn’t envision West Virginia’s middle-school students firing real guns during class time.

Hunter education in schools in nothing new. The program’s roots are in West Virginia middle schools.

The course teaches the dangers of guns and the respect one must show a firearm, it also teaches boating safety, has an extensive hypothermia section and first aid, including bleeding and respiratory management. Children also learn survival skills.

Hunter education is especially important since many children don’t receive such instruction at home, Shumake said.

“People donĂ¡t have somebody to show you that when you cut a stick, you cut away from you and other life lessons,” he said. “They are getting more than just a shooting education. They learn about firearms, it’s not fair not offer it to children who really want to understand. I would rather see them look back and say `boy, I’m glad I had that class,’ instead of saying `boy, I wish I knew what I could have done.'”

Superintendent Bill Niday said some hunting classes have been taught in Wood County Schools, though they have always been optional for student participation.

“I can remember at times the Department of Natural Resources have done some classes in the schools,” he said. “I know that some physical education and health classes have touched on aspects of that. At Parkersburg South High School, part of their physical education program is archery.”

Niday said as long as such courses are left up to the discretion of administrators and students, there shouldn’t be an issue.

“If schools have a need, I don’t see a problem,” he said, “but I would hate to see that become a mandatory part of the curriculum.”

Shumake said the program would lighten the load of hunter-education classes. Those classes held in the fall, especially just before deer season in November, fill up rapidly and those who wait to long to enroll will likely miss that year’s deer season. The state requires anyone born after Jan. 1, 1975, to complete the course before buying a hunting license.

West Virginia, where roughly 320,000 people participated in the gun season for bucks, may be the only state in the country contemplating such a bill, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Hunting is a huge part of life in West Virginia, but, mirroring a national trend, the number of hunters buying permits has been declining for years.

The state sold 154,763 hunting permits to residents in 2006, according to the Division of Natural Resources, a 17 percent drop from 1997. Although West Virginia still ranks in the top six nationally for sales of nonresident permits, the decline is being felt at the state Capitol.

Nationally, the number of hunters 16 and older stands at roughly 12.5 million, a decline of 10 percent from 1996 to 2006, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.