Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring.
When I was a kid, Mom warned, “Make sure you keep a screen door between you and the Fuller Brush man. They won’t leave, and all they do is to sell, sell, sell.”
I remember that caution as I’m reading House File 654, the bill Iowa House Republicans recently approved. Among other things, the "firearms omnibus" would encourage public schools to implement age-appropriate gun safety instruction from grades K-12, "based on the eddie eagle gunsafe program developed by the National Rifle Association."
It’s not the curriculum I question, it’s the messenger and what’s behind bringing the NRA into Iowa's public schools.
Once in the door, they’ll "sell, sell, sell." And the NRA is not just peddling brushes.
They’re selling gun culture.
While gun and hunter safety sounds like a reasonable idea, this proposal is troubling for three reasons.
It matters who develops and delivers the instruction.
As the old saying goes, “Don’t put the foxes in charge of the henhouse.” The NRA isn’t some nonprofit public service group relying on facts to help the public understand guns. It’s a powerful, political interest group that promotes gun rights at all costs.
They won’t leave until they sell the philosophy articulated by Charlton Heston at the NRA's annual meeting in 2000: I’ll give up my guns when you pry them "from my cold dead hands.”
During the last few years, Iowa Republicans have spent a lot of energy pretending they needed to rewrite public school curriculum because all the “woke” teachers were indoctrinating children.
Now, they’re telling Iowans, it’s fine to have this group grooming kids into the gun culture. Does anyone really believe a gun safety course developed and delivered by the NRA won’t be a tad biased? It makes about as much sense as having the Ku Klux Klan teach race relations.
I understand gun safety is important. At the same time, the messenger matters. If a school wants to offer gun safety in PE or health, I’m sure an officer from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources could provide lessons sans propaganda.
This isn't about gun safety. It's about gun culture.
The NRA's goal has always been to deflect attention from guns and blame other things for gun violence. True, guns aren’t the only reason the U.S. has already notched up 145 mass shootings in 2023 alone. But easy access is indeed part of this crisis.
The NRA wants to catch kids early and sell them on the idea, “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun, is to have a good guy with a gun.” If that were true, we’d be the safest country in the world. Do we really want first graders to think packing a gun to the grocery store is the solution, instead of the problem? I don’t think most Iowans believe it.
Guns simply don't belong in schools.
Nearly two dozen entities lobbied against House File 654, and the Iowa Firearms Coalition (the state affiliate of the NRA) was one of the few groups registered in favor. Other provisions of the bill would allow firearms to be kept in locked cars on college campuses, in school parking lots, or in many other publicly accessible places. In other contexts, the NRA has championed the idea of arming certain school personnel.
If adults choose to buy into the group's agenda, that’s their choice. But should children be indoctrinated, starting in kindergarten?
I don’t think so.
House File 654 raises many questions, including:
Who will pay for school districts to implement this course?
Who will teach the firearms safety lessons? Will the instructor bring guns to class?
What in the elementary school curriculum will be eliminated to make time for these lessons?
What if an elementary class is scheduled to teach this material, and a parent of a child in the class disagrees?
Let’s keep the door shut to the Not Responsible for Anything organization. If we let them in, they won’t leave. They’ll just sell, sell, sell.
Editor's note from Laura Belin: When the Iowa House approved House File 654 on April 12, Republican State Representatives Chad Ingels and Gary Mohr voted with every Democrat present against the bill.