Rep. Blake Carpenter carrying the bill.
By John Celock
Kansas lawmakers advanced legislation Wednesday that would allow for air rifle and BB gun competitions and clubs to be hosted in schools.
The state House of Representatives voted 91-27 to give preliminary approval to a bill that would prohibit school districts from not allowing the rifle competitions and clubs on school grounds. The bill came from a move by officials in the Derby school district to end the competitions and clubs in the school. Supporters said the bill would create new athletic opportunities for students, while opponents said the bill will end local control for school districts.
“I would like for this sport to be treated like all of the other sports in high school athletics,” Rep. Blake Carpenter (R-Derby), who was carrying the bill, said. “Its injury rate is lower than football, basketball and baseball.”
Carpenter said that the Derby school board ended the program and ended the chance of providing the athletic and safety benefits of the programs to students. He noted that many of the programs are sponsored by local groups, including 4-H, with the main focus being to teach gun safety.
Carpenter told the House that the bill has several safeguards built into place, including allowing school districts to restrict having the guns brought into school during the school day and being stored in school lockers. He said that in this case, students would have to go home and retrieve the air or BB guns after school and return to school for practice or the competition. He also said that the schools would be able to require liability insurance for competitions and that the competitions set up netting to prevent damage to walls.
Supporters of the bill said that the bill would increase co-ed athletic opportunities for students, along with allowing students another opportunity to participate in athletics. Several noted that air rifle activities take place in the Olympics and early participation in shooting sports can put a student on a path to the Olympics. Carpenter noted hearing recently of a student from Wyandotte County who won a shooting competition in Germany.
“I believe it is a pro youth bill which provides for co-ed sports for those who are not athletically minded,” Rep. Marty Read (R-Mound City) said. “This is a confidence builder.”
Rep. Ken Corbet (R-Topeka) told the House that if the schools can allow for football, then the air rifle events should be allowed as well.
Several opponents to the bill said that the bill would take away local control from school districts and would open schools up to insurance liability issues. House Minority Whip Ed Trimmer (D-Winfield) said that since the issue started in Derby and was limited to the one town, it should be an issue only in that community. He said he would rather that Derby voters elect new school board members who would restore the program than have a new state law.
“This takes away all local control for all schools based on one school board,” Trimmer said.
Rep. Annie Tietze (D-Topeka), the top Democrat on the House Federal and State Affairs Committee, told the House that she had similar concerns about local control. She also expressed concern that while the bill could open up situations where the school districts could be liable for injuries to spectators for the competitions.
Tietze stressed that she was not opposed to air and BB gun competitions but rather she felt the bill was not needed in the state. She said she would rather have the decisions made by local school officials.
“This bill is not a good bill and what’s more it’s not needed,” Tietze said.
Carpenter said that he believed the bill was needed to prevent school districts from deciding to limit one sport in the state.
“Honestly I guess I am coming at from a different point, not allowing school boards to discriminate against this sport,” he said. “I am coming at it from the point of allowing these children to have these practices and tournaments. You can take this all the way up to the Olympics.”