Congress is now one step closer to fixing a problem of its own creation.
The U.S. House of Representatives voted Tuesday to pass the Protecting Hunting Heritage and Education Act. The bill, which cleared the chamber on an overwhelmingly bipartisan 424-1 vote, would amend the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act to specify that school archery, hunting, and shooting sports programs are eligible for federal funding. It would effectively undo an unintended consequence of last year’s Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA).
“Bureaucrats in Washington should never prevent our children from receiving safety and skills training in archery, hunting, and other shooting sports,” Representative Mark Green (R.–TN.), who introduced the bill, said in a press release. “Hunting, fishing, and archery are cornerstones of American culture, and it’s our duty to make sure that these traditions—and opportunities for students—are protected.”
The bill’s passage is the latest sign of the BSCA’s political fallout. That measure marked the first new federal gun-control legislation to make it into law in nearly three decades. Though its passage was touted at the time by the White House and elected officials on both sides of the political aisle, the fact that a bill partially amending it passed with such bipartisan support just a year later suggests at least this aspect has become a political liability.
The controversy came from language in the BSCA that shifted what kinds of school programs the Department of Education may fund. In April, the Department issued an official guide notifying the public that it was no longer permitted to fund any school program that provides “to any person a dangerous weapon or training in the use of a dangerous weapon.” Federal law broadly defines a dangerous weapon as 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.”
The Education Department later confirmed that school hunting, archery, and sports shooting programs were rendered ineligible for funding under its reading of the statutory language.
That interpretation drew backlash from a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including many who voted to pass the BSCA into law. A group of 18 U.S. Senators, including eight Democrats and one Independent, sent the Department a letter earlier this month stating that they never intended the funding language to be interpreted broadly and demanded it reinstate funding for school hunting and archery programs.
“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.”
Gun rights and hunter advocacy groups have also decried the changes in school funding. The groups celebrated the House passing Representative Green’s bill.
“Hunting is a small, but important part of the much larger Second Amendment movement,” Alan Gottlieb, Chairman of Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, said in a press release.
The bill will now go to the Senate for future consideration. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D.) office did not respond to a request for comment on possible plans to take up the bill.