Recent revelations regarding armed Army personnel visiting a school at Whakarongo might have got some politicians worked up.
But the Council of Licensed Firearms Owners (COLFO) said it was not so many years ago that most boys’ schools had cadet units that trained with modern military firearms of that period, including machine guns.
Even today many schools had clay target and smallbore rifle teams, COLFO chairman Paul Clark said, while volunteer firearms safety instructors had provided firearm safety lectures at schools over recent decades so students can sit the test for their firearms licence.
Local clubs had also provided practical shooting experience for school children on many occasions.
“Shooting is a sport that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and physical ability,” Mr Clark said.
“Most children are curious about firearms, and those who are given the opportunity to handle them thoroughly enjoy the experience.”
New Zealand had more than 240,000 licensed firearms owners, and it was inevitable that many young children would be exposed to firearms, particularly in rural areas where a firearm was a tool that was regularly used by parents, family members and workers.
Firearm safety training at an early age had been shown to lead to safer and more responsible firearm use in later life, he said.
Mr Clark noted that the Green and Labour parties had called for a ban on firearms in schools, while Education Minister Nikki Kaye was calling for guidelines.
Considering the wide use of firearms throughout the country, COLFO believed it would be appropriate to include firearm safety training in the curriculum.
“It is a skill that encourages good behaviour, just as the introduction of defensive driving programmes has improved young driver behaviour,” he added.
COLFO also believed that a school’s board of trustees should be able to judge what extra-curricular activities were appropriate for their community.
“It is imperative that in developing guidelines for firearms in schools, Minister Kaye should consult with the firearms community. This will ensure that the guidelines are fit for purpose and can be taken into any school or education facility,” he said.
No problem for RWNZ
Rural Women New Zealand (RWNZ) has come out strongly in support of school programmes in all areas of safety in rural environments, including the safe use of firearms.
The organisation’s finance chair and representative on the Firearms Safety Council and Firearms Community Advisory Forum, Rachael Dean, said RWNZ had in the past collaborated with ACC to deliver Down in the Paddock workshops on risks in the rural environment, such as animal safety, ATVs, poisons, water safety, civil defence, road safety, rural fires, home security and firearms safety.
“Research shows that teaching children at a young age how to handle firearms safely decreases non-intentional firearms incidents, resulting in lives being saved,” she said.
“Towards the end of the 1960s, on average children were involved in one incident of non-intentional discharge of a firearm a month. Once education around firearms was introduced the statistics dropped dramatically.”