Want to know what real gun safety education looks like, as opposed to the “don’t own a gun” definition of gun safety dreamt up by the anti-gun lobby? It doesn’t involve after-school marches to create new, non-violent, possessory crimes out of a constitutional right. It’s not based on trying to make gun ownership taboo, abnormal, or an inherently bad idea. Instead, it’s based on the idea that we live in a world where guns exist and will never go away, so our kids should know how to be safe and responsible with them. Real gun safety involves real guns, and in Wisconsin, 30 high school students have received an excellent education in firearms safety as part of their science class.
The class is known as American Wilderness Science, and it’s taught at Random Lakes High School in Sheboygan County by life sciences teacher Natalie Weeks. A hunter education safety course is one of the components of the class, with students actually taking to the field once they’ve passed their test.
In the class, students learn about land management, animal management, wildfires, federal land use, archery and survival skills, in addition to getting certified in hunter safety.
The class may be the only one of its kind in the state, Weeks said.
“I don’t know any courses that go as in-depth and then take the kids out for a full day of shooting and actually hunting,” she said.
“A lot of these kids have never handled a firearm up until this point, and to be able to teach them to use it safely, I think, is a life-skill.”
What a great idea, and Weeks is absolutely right about knowing how to be safe and responsible with a gun being a life skill. No matter your views on gun ownership, the simple truth is that there is no Gun Fairy who’s going to come along and scoop up 400-million privately-owned firearms. No amount of “buybacks” will come close to ever taking every gun off the street. In fact, they can’t even keep pace with new gun sales. You may love, hate, or be indifferent about guns, but they’re undeniably here to stay. And since they are, I have no issue whatsoever teaching high schoolers how to be safe and responsible with them instead of leaving their “education” up to dimwits on social media and PSA’s from gun prohibitionists.
Still, there are some challenges to widely adopting a program like this, like finding teachers with the passion and dedication to do it and the funds to cover hunting and shooting supplies.
Weeks did not grow up hunting, but started going in high school when someone introduced her to it. It’s exciting to give her students the same opportunity and take some out hunting for their very first time, she said.
“I think it is very important to know where your food comes from, and that’s the angle I take with it — being responsible and ethical,” Weeks said.
Weeks has raised awareness of conservation since joining the Random Lake High School staff and started an annual conservation fair to raise money for her students’ day at Highlands Hunt Club, school principal Susan McDonald said.
The Wisconsin Chapter of Safari Club International also gives the class a large grant every year so the students can shoot and hunt for free. The experience would otherwise be $200 to $300 per person, Weeks said.
Weeks has brought science programming in Random Lake School District to a “different level” by introducing classes such as the wilderness course and other outdoors courses, McDonald said.
Weeks has also been collaborating with middle and elementary school teachers to incorporate outdoor education in their classes, and she spearheaded writing a grant to develop an outdoor classroom, McDonald said.
“She really is a creative and innovative teacher and likes to think outside the box,” McDonald said. “She is all about getting students immersed in the different topics they’re learning about.”
In the wildfire science unit of the wilderness course, for example, students make models of fire regimes and light them on fire.
“The kids have fun doing that, but they’re learning at the same time,” Weeks said.
Honestly, finding the money is probably going to be easier than finding a teacher like Natalie Weeks in every high school. I was blessed to have a couple of teachers in middle and high school who had the passion, creativity, and the institutional freedom to make learning a fun and immersive experience as Weeks is doing, but they were the exception and not the rule.
It’s definitely an idea worth exploring though, and not just in relatively rural school districts like Random Lakes. My friend John Annoni is doing amazing things in Allentown, Pennsylvania with Camp Compass Academy; a program that brings inner-city kids to the great outdoors where they too can learn real gun safety and the responsibility that comes from being an ethical hunter or angler.
It’ll take some work, but we need a lot more of this type of gun safety in our schools. No, I’m not calling for students to be forced to go hunt their dinner. If they have moral or ethical qualms they can go skeet shooting instead. And given the shortage of teachers with the dedication and freedom from administrators to develop a lesson plan that involves kids using firearms, even in a supervised setting, it’s not like this could be made compulsory on any large scale.
I would, however, be happy to support a local teacher in my own county who wanted to do something like this, and you probably would as well. If we want to see more of this we should start with our local school boards. Even if hunter ed and a hands-on field trip to harvest a deer can’t be included in science curriculum, maybe the district could establish a high school trap shooting team, a sport that (no pun intended) is exploding at the high school level in several states, including Minnesota, where almost 8,000 high schoolers participated in the first round of this year’s state championship. Not one injury, mishap, or misuse of a firearm at that event, by the way. Amazing how responsible teenagers can be when they’re learning about firearms from responsible adults instead of morons and criminals on social media (or perhaps the morons and criminals in their own circle of family and friends) isn’t it?
We need more Natalie Weeks and John Annonis in our schools, but frankly, they need more of us to support teachers like them as well. The benefits are obvious, the objections are frivolous, but we won’t see programs like this develop if we don’t get involved ourselves.