Congress and President Joe Biden have undone a mess of their own making.
On Friday, Biden signed the Protecting Hunting Heritage and Education Act into law. Congress passed the law nearly unanimously. The legislation restores funding for school hunting and archery training courses.
“The benefits of hunter education and archery programs should be fully recognized as these classes teach future generations the important skills of public safety, confidence, and comradery,” Representative Richard Hudson (R., N.C.), who sponsored the bill, said in a statement.
The law amends 2022’s Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA) to clarify that grants from the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act can be spent on hunting and archery programs. The overwhelming bipartisan support for funding firearms and archery training in schools demonstrates, at least, that the floor of support for hunting remains pretty high in American politics.
The law stems from a dispute in the BSCA’s language about whether federal funds can be spent on weapons training. In April, the Department of Education published an official guide that said it couldn’t spend money on programs that provide “to any person a dangerous weapon or training in the use of a dangerous weapon.” Federal law specifically labels any object capable of “causing death or serious bodily injury, except that such term does not include a pocket knife with a blade of less than 2½ inches in length” as a dangerous weapon.
In August, the Education Department told Fox21 it considered hunting, archery, and sports shooting programs ineligible for funding under the statutory language.
The Department’s interpretation of the BSCA was condemned by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including many who’d voted for the bill. 18 Senators, including eight Democrats and an Independent, sent a letter to the Department in September arguing they never intended the funding language to be interpreted that way. They demanded funding for school hunting and archery programs be reinstated.
“The intent of section 13401 of BSCA was to preclude these funds from being used to purchase dangerous weapons for school staff or to train school staff in the use of dangerous weapons, with the recognition that ESEA funds should support student achievement, educational enrichment programs, and student well-being,” they wrote. “Other federal funds appropriated in the BSCA were intended to support evidence-based school safety and protective measures.”
Another bipartisan group of Senators sent a letter to the leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee asking them to create a legislative fix if the Department didn’t change its mind. Between the two letters, the effort garnered support from a dozen Democrats, nine Republicans, and an Independent.
Representative Hudson, who called the Department’s interpretation of the language an “attempt to push their radical agenda on our children,” introduced his legislative fix in the House. That bill quickly gained bipartisan support and passed by a vote of 424 to 1. The Senate agreed to it unanimously. Now, President Biden has signed it into law.
“[T]he 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, Director of the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, tweeted after the House took up the bill.