Illinois schools could soon teach safe gun storage under new state law

Published: Jun. 7, 2022 at 6:50 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WGEM) - With gun violence rising across the country, many families are thinking about their children’s safety. A new Illinois law encourages schools to teach safe gun storage to students in every grade in an effort to prevent future shootings.

This law is not a new mandate for school districts. Instead, sponsors say it is a suggestion for districts to consider adding safe gun storage into their home safety curriculum. Car safety, CPR training, and safety in vocational training or work are other suggestions under the safety education provision of the Illinois school code.

“Promoting messages about safe gun storage is a key strategy to reducing all gun violence - whether it is an unintentional injury when a child comes across an unsecured firearm, whether it’s death by homicide or suicide,” said Rep. Maura Hirschauer (D-Batavia).

This plan received strong bipartisan support as it moved out of both chambers this spring. It passed out of the House on a 99-5 vote on March 4 and the Senate voted 53-0 to send it to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk in April.

Hirschauer believes it gained Republican votes because the proposal only focused on safe gun storage and not singling people out for owning guns.

“It really just provides a framework that schools can use and they can play a role in keeping students and families safe,” Hirschauer said.

The Illinois State Rifle Association stayed neutral on this plan as it moved through the General Assembly. However, ISRA Executive Director Richard Pearson said the organization did provide gun safety data to help inform lawmakers. Pearson says safe storage has been around since the 1960s, and most responsible gun owners know how to do that.

“The problem becomes when you have illegal gun owners. There aren’t really any illegal guns. It’s illegal gun owners,” Pearson said. “And they know, nor do they much care, how they store their firearms.”

Hirschauer agrees that state lawmakers need to address the use of illegal guns as well.

“The message of safely storing your guns keeps those weapons safe from being stolen out of cars,” Hirschauer said. “A lot of guns, I think, are stolen from the front seats of cars or home invasions.”

For now, school districts will have to decide if they want to teach about safe gun storage. There is no required curriculum as school leaders can choose learning materials from a variety of groups like the National Rifle Association, Illinois State Rifle Association, and Moms Demand Action.

Pearson wished specific curriculum was included in the bill language before it was signed into law.

“Generally, we are for that,” Pearson said. “But the devil is always in the details in any of these bills and, in this case, in what is in the curriculum.”

He also stressed that the ISRA won’t give its stamp of approval until they know what kids will be learning. The law takes effect on January 1.

A separate bill on Pritzker’s desk calls for a statewide safe storage public awareness campaign. The Illinois Department of Public Health received $3.5 billion in the Fiscal Year 2023 budget to help run the educational campaign for two years.

“It’s something we need to be talking more about. If you are in a mental health crisis and have access to an unsecured firearm, the results are deadly,” Hirschauer said. “So, I think simply locking up guns will keep all Illinoisans safe.”

Still, Pearson argues the country has to address mental health more than gun safety.

“Mental health has been the stepchild for the state of Illinois and the nation generally for 20 or 25 years,” Pearson said. “Mental health programs have been cut back. We used to have zone centers everywhere in Illinois where people could go for treatment. The mental health funding needs to go way up.”

The Fiscal Year 2023 budget includes $230 million for community-based mental health care and substance use treatment providers. It also allocates $70 million for the 988 call center to properly respond to people experiencing mental health crises. $2 million is set aside for mobile treatment units and $3 million will go to a new Illinois State Police diversion program to provide mental health and substance use services for crime victims.

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