WASHINGTON — Congress overwhelmingly passed protections for archery and hunting education in schools after lawmakers, including the Alaska delegation, protested federal guidance that they said threatened the programs.
Members of Congress raised concerns about U.S. Education Department guidance prohibiting dangerous weapons in schools, arguing it endangered hunting and archery education programs. The language in the Education Department’s guidance drew from the 2022 Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, a landmark gun safety bill backed by Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski. However, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle argued that blocking hunting or archery school funding would be a misreading of the law.
An Education spokesperson said Thursday that the department has not withheld federal dollars to any state, school district or other grantee or subgrantee as a result of the statutory language in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.
To safeguard school archery and hunting programs, Alaska’s congressional delegation rallied behind legislative fixes. One of the proposed bills, the Protecting Hunting Heritage and Education Act, passed the House of Representatives 424-1 and passed the Senate by unanimous consent this week.
The bill clarifies that the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act does not prohibit the use of dangerous weapons during programs that provide students with “educational instruction or educational enrichment activities, such as archery, hunting, other shooting sports, or culinary arts.”
Murkowski said the Education Department’s guidance “stretched” and “warped” congressional intent of the gun safety law.
“Today we sent a very clear message that hunting and archery are critical life skill for countless Americans, especially Alaskans,” Murkowski said in a statement. “Whether you’re learning hunter safety, how to use a bow and arrow, or simply using an ulu knife in a culinary class, our children should have the option of learning these basic skills at school.”
Sullivan said in a statement that he didn’t vote for the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act out of concern that the bill’s language could infringe on Second Amendment rights.
“My team and I have heard from hundreds of Alaskans, including a bipartisan group of Alaska legislators, who are rightly outraged at the Biden Education Department’s effort to subvert school hunting and archery programs — programs that teach vital skills and cultural values integral to Alaska’s way of life,” Sullivan said.
“I’m glad my Senate colleagues have come together in a bipartisan way to restore this funding that actually saves lives by promoting safe firearm-handling practices,” he said.
Alaska Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola didn’t vote on the bill because she’s in Alaska grieving her husband, who died this month in a plane crash. She was an early co-sponsor and the first House Democrat to sign on.
“We are glad the bill passed with such significant bipartisan support and that vital hunter safety education can continue in Alaska,” Peltola spokesman Sam Erickson said in a statement.
Stefanie Feldman, director of the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, said in a Tuesday social media statement that the White House also welcomed the Protecting Hunting Heritage and Education Act.
“The President supports a legislative solution to ensure ESEA funding can be used for valuable school enrichment programs, such as hunter safety and archery,” Feldman said. “Tonight, we’re glad to see the House will vote on legislation to do exactly that.”