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GROB: Teaching gun safety in school is just common sense

By James Grob,

When I was in eighth grade, the state of Iowa made it mandatory for every kid to take a certified gun-safety class before he or she could get a hunting license.

I took my class in school. My certified hunter-safety teacher was Mr. Campbell, and it was the only one of all of Mr. Campbell’s tests that I ever aced. A perfect score.

James Grob
James Grob

That was a big deal. It was not an easy test, and you see, a lot of my junior high classmates were afraid of Mr. Campbell.

He was one tough teacher, and had a personality that could be intimidating to your typical eighth-grader. Eighth-graders think they’re smart (they’re not), they think they’re funny (they’re usually not), and they like to pretend they’re not afraid of anyone or anything (they’re actually afraid of everyone and everything). I was no different.

But my classmates and I had met our match with Mr. Campbell. He saw right through our phony bravado.

Strict and sturdy, Mr. Campbell was a former Marine who taught science, anatomy, health and a few other things. He was loud, he was direct, he meant business and he expected his students to mean business, too.

Each class was like a 45-minute march, with Mr. Campbell as the drill sergeant, barking out clear directions. You stayed in line. If you fell out of line, he’d let you know. Believe me, you didn’t want him to let you know.

I’ve no doubt that’s the best way to learn things in the United States Marine Corps. I’m not sure if that’s the best way to learn things in eighth grade, but it’s one way, and it was Mr. Campbell’s way. And we did, in fact, learn things.

Mr. Campbell was an avid hunter and an expert dog-trainer, and in my opinion, there has never been anyone in the history of the world more qualified to teach kids gun safety.

He taught the class after school, in his classroom. Many of us wanted hunting licenses, so the room was packed.

I, however, was unable to take the scheduled class. I had previous obligations, and couldn’t fit it in. So my dad, also a teacher, talked to Mr. Campbell and made special arrangements for me to take the class at another time — one-on-one.

It was just me and Mr. Campbell.

One of us was scared out of our minds, and it wasn’t Mr. Campbell.

Earlier this month, it was reported that middle school students in two area school districts will be learning how to properly handle firearms as part of a mandatory hunter safety course being introduced in the next school year.

Students in both the seventh and eighth grades in North Butler and Clarksville will take part in the classes starting in 2019. High school students will also be able to take part in a voluntary class teaching how to properly use firearms.

This was surprising to me, only because I assumed that this has been happening all along, in every school district.

If we’re not teaching kids gun safety in every school, we should be.

I was also stunned to hear so many speaking out against this.

According to the reports, students will use inoperable guns with replica ammunition to learn how to load and unload bullets and hold and care for firearms. They’ll also learn how to safely carry guns and how to recognize when firearms are loaded. The hunter safety courses are expected to last about a week as part of the physical education curriculums and will be taught by a naturalist from the Butler County Conservation Board. Parents can opt to have their children sit out the courses.

Seventh and eighth graders will be required to complete the course at North Butler; only eighth graders will be required to do so at Clarksville. For interested students in other grades there will an optional evening course available.

I am absolutely dumbfounded to learn that there is anything about this that is the least bit controversial to anyone with common sense. I say the two administrations of those two school districts deserve high praise for having the intelligence to decide to do something that we all should have been doing all along. I hope that other schools in Iowa start to do the same.

As the superintendent of one of the schools said, gun safety, and knowing how to handle firearms, is beneficial to anyone — even those who never plan to hunt.

I have no idea if that superintendent, or the Butler County naturalist, are anything like Mr. Campbell, but if they are, those kids will learn things that they’ll never forget — things that will be helpful to them for the rest of their lives. The class may even save their life — or the life of someone else — someday.

Guns mean serious business. And when Mr. Campbell taught me about guns, I meant serious business, too.

My one-on-one gun-safety class with the terrifying Mr. Campbell was ultimately nothing to worry about. I already knew a lot of the material we covered, as my dad and my uncles had already schooled me on guns and hunting long before I’d ever walked into Mr. Campbell’s classroom. Still, I didn’t know everything, and he made sure I learned all I needed.

I also learned that Mr. Campbell wasn’t such a scary guy after all. If you were respectful to him, he was respectful to you. If you made an effort, he appreciated it.

And if you brought him some venison sausage from the first deer you ever shot, to thank him for taking the time to teach you how to shoot it, you’d made a friend for life.