By Charles Collier, The Denmark News
MADISON—Assembly Bill 427, authored by Ken Skowronski (R-Franklin) details directions for the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to create curriculum for those courses. Schools would not be required to offer a course and current laws barring live ammunition on campus would not be compromised.
Trap shooting teams have taken the state by storm since the Wisconsin State High School Clay Target League (WCTL) began competition in 2015. That year, nine teams competed in the fall competition and 24 participated in the fall. More than 1,600 students participated in the regular season and at the league’s state competition earlier this spring, 65 teams took to the trap range.
Denmark Trap placed second in the state tournament and swept the top spots for female shooters. First-place Georgia Pantzlaff on Thursday spoke to the Assembly Committee on Education in Madison on August 3 in support of the bill, with her multiple medals proudly around her neck. To one of the state’s best young shooters, knowledge means everything.
“I’ve seen kids who don’t know how to handle guns and I’m more scared of them handling a gun because then they don’t know to use it properly and that’s when an accident happens. Around the time I’ve spent with kids who do know how to handle it properly, I’m very not worried about something happening…because I actually trust them to handle the gun and be around them,” Georgia said before the committee, “Why else would I be on a team where all these kids and teenagers are handling guns?”
The proposal for offering gun safety in public schools has ignited opinions across the spectrum, but for Denmark Trap coach Andy Pantzlaff the issue goes beyond well-known pro- or anti-gun sentiments.
“What we have is a meeting, you can see by the tone of this committee, a meeting of different ideals. This has nothing to do with ideals—this is strictly about safety. This is strictly about teaching our children how to make something that is safe,” Pantzlaff said before committee.
Desiring to include as many students as are interested, the long-time range shooter noted that some parents are supportive of their children learning gun skills but are hesitant to put them through traditional hunter safety—so far the only hands-on program which certifies shooters to participate in WCTL competition.
WCTL does offer an online alternative to hunter safety courses. Student Athlete Firearm Education—SAFE for short—consists of fourteen lessons ranging from league policies, knowing the firearm and ammunition, cleaning the firearm as well as trap shooting specifics. For Pantzlaff, the program does not provide sufficient handling skills.
“The problem I have with [the SAFE course] is they don’t get any physical touching of the firearms and that’s where the real rubber meets the road. That’s why we need a program to allow these students to touch it,” Pantzlaff said, noting that guns with filled barrels and deactivated firing pins could be used with no risk of ammunition discharge.
“They need to touch it, they need to handle it, they need to understand it,” Pantzlaff said.
The bill states that the, “jointly developed curriculum incorporates the history, science, and mathematics of firearms,” alongside firearm mechanics and firearm safety.
Georgia said understanding firearms in their totality is essential to safe handling.
“There’s so many different types of guns you can encounter in your life. If you don’t understand the history behind guns, you’re not really getting the gist of everything,” Georgia said to the committee.
There is no standard firearm for WCTL competition, a letter-winning program in the high schools which participate, meaning each piece can feature a different safety, different loading technique, and different levels of recoil.
Due to her proficiency at state, Georgia was invited to practice with Wisconsin Junior Olympic Team.
Joel Kleefisch mentioned the sport’s Olympic aspirations as reasoning to include it in regular instruction in an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio.
Denmark District Administrator Tony Klaubauf wonders how Olympic potential should factor into the school’s offerings.
“By the same token, should we be offering a bobsled team as well?” Klaubauf said.
Klaubauf owns multiple guns himself but has reservations on offering the course within a regular school day.
“We have to focus on college and career readiness, and we’re getting pounded for [that.] To add this into what we’re already doing is difficult,” Klaubauf said.
According to the committee’s legal counsel, districts can already create a curriculum for a gun safety course and offer it as an elective.
Klaubauf says he is unaware of any school currently offering the course and that he has “never” heard any district say, “We need this.”
Denmark’s newest addition to the curriculum this coming year is TEALS, an advanced computer science course focusing on coding. The curriculum is curated by Microsoft who will be providing a support instructor in the first year of its offering in Denmark. The 15 students who committed to the course will arrive at 7 a.m. due to lack of space in the regular schedule.
Debate on Skowronski’s bill comes at a time when public schools are currently unaware of their entire financial standing for the 2017-18 schoolyear as the legislature is more than two months overdue on passing a state budget, a position Klaubauf calls, “frustrating.”
Referencing an undetermined funding structure for road repairs as well as a Special Session called to negotiate terms for proposed Foxconn manufacturing facilities in southern Wisconsin, Klaubauf says there are other issues which could use Madison’s attention and legislative heft.
Klaubauf added that he would be open to extending the school’s facilities to a gun safety program—just not in the regular schedule of students.
Andy sees possibilities to work with every side of the argument, but sees necessity for the course’s integration into the classroom—preferably at the elementary or junior high level.
“This is an open slate—we can do with this whatever we want to do with it. DPI has that opportunity. This is about safety. I stress that all students should take this course. I’ve debated this with several anti-gun people, and I wish they would open their eyes because all children in the state of WI will come in contact with a gun at one time or another,” the Denmark trap coach said, “their friends, their parents, co-workers—somebody has a gun in their house and they will come in contact with it. What I don’t want to see happen is their child shoot my child because they don’t know what it is.”
Denmark Trap has a middle school and high school team and will be undertaking its first fall competition this year, having competed in WCTL spring league in 2016 and 2017. WCTL teams combined to fire over a million shells in 2016 and recorded zero injuries statewide.