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Change in law ensures hunting education in schools won't lose funding

Posted at 2:10 PM, Oct 11, 2023

HELENA — In August, MTN reported Montana leaders were raising concerns (https://www.ktvh.com/news/arntzen-seeks-clarity-on-how-federal-rule-may-affect-hunting-education-at-schools) that a provision in federal law might lead to a loss of funding for school-based hunting education and archery programs. Now, the law has been changed to avoid that.

The issue grew out of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, passed last year after the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. The law included changes to gun safety regulations, as well as investments in mental health and school safety programs.

One section of the law prevents certain federal education dollars from being used to “provide someone with a dangerous weapon” or train them in using such a weapon. Earlier this year, hunting education advocates across the country came forward, saying the U.S. Department of Education’s interpretation of that section would prevent funds from going to hunting and archery programs.

Last month, Congress overwhelmingly approved a House bill that added an exemption, saying the restriction on funding doesn’t apply to programs that “provide students with educational instruction or educational enrichment activities, such as archery, hunting, other shooting sports, or culinary arts.” President Joe Biden signed the bill into law last week.

In early September, Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester introduced bipartisan legislation in the Senate that would add this exemption. Tester's office says that language came out of discussions with lawmakers, the Biden administration and local stakeholders, and that he shared it with the House bill's sponsor as a way to ensure the change could move forward as quickly as possible. That bill, revised to include almost identical language, passed the House 424-1 and the Senate on unanimous consent.

In a statement, Tester said the change is a protection for Montana’s way of life.

“Our schools have a proud tradition of offering hunter safety classes to teach our students gun safety and personal responsibility,” Tester said. “But recently, the Biden administration and bureaucrats here in Washington, D.C., who don't understand our Montana values decided to block funding for these important education programs. These courses were offered at Big Sandy when I was a kid going to school, and it's important that our kids and our grandkids have that same opportunity.”

In a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines said Biden had “come to his senses” by agreeing to sign the bill.

“@JoeBiden finally listened to Montanans and today signed a bill reversing his own decision to gut Montana hunter safety and archery courses,” Daines said. “Our Montana way of life is not up for negotiation, Mr. President.”

Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen had asked the Education Department to reconsider its interpretation. Her office released a statement praising the law change.

“President Biden caved to pressure and realized that there are many good law-abiding families that support our Second Amendment Rights,” Arntzen said. “Teaching our children hunting and archery safety has a long and strong tradition in our public schools. I am glad to have led the fight to preserve hunter and archery safety education for our children.”

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to include more details on the process of bringing forward the legislation.