The Biden administration’s misuse of last year’s ill-conceived Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA) to threatening to withhold federal funding from elementary and secondary schools for their hunting or archery programs is drawing a strong rebuke from many in Congress.
As we recently reported, Biden’s Department of Education cited the BSCA, which the NRA strongly opposed, as the reason it announced a plan to withhold funding for school archery and hunting education programs. Since that announcement, some schools have reportedly canceled plans to include such programs.
Now, 19 Republican U.S. Senators, all of whom voted against the BSCA, have sent a letter to President Joe Biden (D) denouncing his administration’s “purposeful misinterpretation” of the law.
“We voted against the gun-control legislation,” stated the letter, which was penned by Sen. John Barrasso (R- Wyo.). “It is now clearer than ever that the Biden administration will use the bill to attack the constitutional rights of Americans. Hunting and archery are strongly connected to the traditions and heritage of America. This outrageous overreach is an attack on hunters and outdoor recreation that must be addressed.”
When the situation first came to light, many thought perhaps the withholding of funding was simply a mistake or a misreading of the legislation. But upon questioning, the Department of Education claimed in a statement that the BSCA blocked funding from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965, the primary source of federal aid for elementary and secondary education. As such, these schools may have to eliminate a program that has proven to help reduce accidents related to hunting, firearms and archery due to a lack of federal funding.
According to the senators who penned the letter, that is a decision schools shouldn’t have to make, given the importance of these programs to safety and to our nation’s hunting heritage.
“The Biden Administration’ purposeful misinterpretation of this gun-control bill is attempting to take away valuable programs from students across the country,” say the senators. “Hunter education and archery programs are beneficial to students both in rural and urban areas. We call on the Biden administration to immediately withdraw the guidance and support these essential programs.”
The crux of the problem seems to be that the BSCA included an amendment to an ESEA subsection that lists prohibited uses of federal school funding. According to Fox News, “That amendment prohibits ESEA funds from helping provide any person with a dangerous weapon or to provide ‘training in the use of a dangerous weapon.’”
Even before the senators sent the letter to Biden, some Congressional Republicans who had supported the bill had already scolded the administration on the withholding of funds and quickly moved to seek a remedy. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who helped write the BSCA, sent a letter to Department of Education Secretary Miquel Cardona stating: “The Department mistakenly believes that the BSCA precludes funding these enrichment programs [hunter safety and archery]. Such an interpretation contradicts Congressional intent and the text of the BSCA.”
In addition to the protest from U.S. Senators to the Biden administration, 24 state attorneys general sent a letter to U.S. House and Senate leaders insisting that legislation be passed to clarify the issue and restore the funding. Even before that, House members were already working on the Protecting Hunting Heritage and Education Act, which would amend the 1965 ESEA to clarify that schools that train students “in archery, hunting or other shooting sports” are eligible for funding for those programs.
In the end, this strong effort to put a halt to the administration wrongly withholding funds to schools for hunting and archery programs wouldn’t be necessary if lawmakers had simply heeded the warnings of NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action. NRA-ILA warned that the measure could “be abused to restrict lawful gun purchases, infringe upon the rights of law-abiding Americans and use federal dollars to fund gun control measures being adopted by state and local politicians.”
As NRA-ILA also explained during the debate, the bill “leaves too much discretion in the hands of government officials and also contains undefined and overbroad provisions—inviting interference with our constitutional freedoms.”