President Biden signed a bill on Friday that reverses his administration’s decision to defund school hunting and shooting programs across the country. The bill, called the Protecting Hunting Heritage and Education Act, clarifies that federal funds can be used to provide certain weapons or training in the use of weapons within educational instruction or enrichment activities.
Bipartisan support for the bill
The bill was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress. The House approved it in a 424-1 vote in September, followed by a unanimous vote in the Senate the next day. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and co-sponsored by Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas; Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz.; and Thom Tillis, R-N.C. The House version was introduced by Rep. Mark Green, R-Tenn.
The lawmakers argued that the Department of Education misinterpreted a 2022 gun control law, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA), to restrict students’ access to enrichment programs like hunting safety, archery and even culinary classes. They said that these programs teach valuable skills and promote responsible gun ownership and conservation.
“Montanans sent me to the Senate to protect our rural way of life, and that’s exactly why I stood up to the Biden Administration’s decision to block the use of federal dollars for hunter safety classes,” Tester said in a statement. “As a third-generation Montanan, I had the opportunity to learn about the importance of responsible gun ownership and hunting from these longstanding hunter education courses – and it’s critical that our kids and grandkids are afforded that same opportunity.”
Biden administration’s change of stance
The Biden administration initially defended its decision to withhold funding for school shooting sports courses, citing the BSCA’s provision that prohibits federal funds from being used to purchase firearms or ammunition. The Department of Education shared federal guidance to hunting education groups in July, highlighting that hunting and archery programs in schools would be stripped of funding.
However, after facing backlash from Republicans, sportsmen groups and some Democrats, the White House changed its position and expressed support for a legislative solution to ensure funding for school enrichment programs, such as hunter safety and archery.
“The President supports a legislative solution to ensure ESEA funding can be used for valuable school enrichment programs, such as hunter safety and archery,” Stefanie Feldman, the director of the White House’s Office of Gun Violence Prevention, said in a statement last month.
Reaction from hunting and shooting groups
The signing of the bill into law was welcomed by various hunting and shooting groups, who praised the bipartisan effort to protect school programs that foster outdoor recreation and conservation.
“We are grateful for President Biden’s signature on this important legislation that will ensure students across America can continue to participate in hunting and shooting sports programs,” said Lawrence G. Keane, senior vice president and general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF). “These programs instill confidence, teach firearm safety and respect for wildlife and the environment.”
“Today is a great day for America’s young hunters and conservationists,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP). “Thanks to this bill, millions of kids will have access to safe and responsible hunting education programs that will help them develop a lifelong passion for the outdoors.”