A bill passed by the U.S. Congress last year meant to address gun-related violence may have unintentionally defunded archery and hunter’s education programs in schools across the country.
Congress passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA) in 2022 in response to mass murders in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas. As MeatEater reported at the time, its provisions were ostensibly meant to prevent such murders from taking place in the future. But the bill also amended existing federal law to prohibit federal education funds to be used for training someone “in the use of a dangerous weapon.”
Now, the Department of Education (DOE) is sending letters to state education officials saying that Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) funds cannot be used for any program involving these weapons.
“Under the plain language of the new prohibition on dangerous weapons, archery programs, hunting safety programs, and any other programs—such as wilderness safety courses—that provide, or provide training in the use of, items that are technically dangerous weapons may not be funded,” Sarah Martinez wrote in an email reviewed by MeatEater. Martinez, an official with the Office of Migrant Education, was responding to a question about a wilderness safety course posed by another official with the Alaska Department of Education & Early Development.
Organizations that help operate archery programs in schools say the decision will deprive children of an outlet that leads to better classroom engagement and mental well-being.
“[Parents and educators] tell us about the many positive attributes they see developing in their students such as confidence, humility, ability to handle pressure, sportsmanship, dealing with success (and failure) and becoming part of a team; all essential life skills are imparted through participating in the shooting sports,” Tommy Floyd said in a letter to Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.
Floyd is the president of the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP), which operates archery programs in 9,000 schools across 49 states. Over 21 million students have participated in NASP’s archery program since 2002, and they’ve awarded $3.4 million in scholarships.
Hunter education courses would also be ineligible to receive ESEA funding. These courses are offered in 38 states as of 2022, and over 600,000 students graduated nationally in the basic hunter ed program in 2021, according to the International Hunter Education Association.
Critics say the DOE is misinterpreting the law. Mark Oliva of the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) accused Secretary Cardona of “wildly misinterpreting the law to appease special interest anti-hunting and antigun groups,” and Senators John Cornyn (TX) and Thom Tillis (NC) sent a letter to Cardona echoing that sentiment. Both senators co-authored the BSCA, and they say it was not their intention to eliminate federal funding for archery programs or hunter education.
“We were alarmed to learn recently that the Department of Education has misinterpreted the BCSA to require the defunding of certain longstanding educational and enrichment programs,” the senators say in the letter reviewed by MeatEater. “Such an interpretation contradicts congressional intent and the text of the BCSA.”
The senators say the portion of the law in question was meant only to defund programs that armed and trained School Resources Officers (SROs). The funding for SROs and other school hardening measures was located in other parts of the bill.
“Using the BSCA as a pretext to shift critical educational and enrichment resources away from archery and hunter education classes was never the intent of the law,” the senators explain.
Despite these clarifications, the Department of Education is moving forward with its interpretation.
"This prohibition applies to all ESEA funds," a Department of Education spokesperson told Fox News this week. "The prohibition went into effect immediately on June 25, 2022 and applies to all existing and future awards under all ESEA programs, including 21st Century Community Learning Centers. The Department is administering the bipartisan law as written by Congress."
The bill does not ban archery or hunter’s ed programs in schools, and it does not prohibit the use of other funds to operate these programs. But it does restrict ESEA funds from being used “to provide to any person a dangerous weapon or training in the use of a dangerous weapon.”
The statue defines a “dangerous weapon” as a “weapon, device, instrument, material, or substance, animate or inanimate, that is used for, or is readily capable of, causing death or serious bodily injury, except that such term does not include a pocketknife with a blade of less than 2 1/2 inches in length.”