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I'm hoping the title got everyone's attention. As a man whose career revolves around hunting and teaching our nation's youth responsibility around firearms, I have something to say about both our country's beautiful natural resources and gun safety.

This past June, I read an article about Executive Order 11-17 issued by Vermont Governor Phil Scott. This initiative established the Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative (VOREC), a task force that looks at and takes advantage of the state's natural resources. I believe our love of the outdoors, our natural renewable resources, our wildlife and our ecology are all core values for most Vermonters and the very thing that makes us Vermonters. I also believe conservation and our heritage and tradition of hunting is a big part of that system. The economy, the ecology and our very resources themselves depend this age old activity in Vermont. I applaud the governor for recognizing the importance of our state's natural beauty and outdoor recreation, but I would also like to call on him and VOREC to add the education piece.

The idea I am about to put forth is something that I have been lobbying and pushing for over a decade, not just in Vermont, but nationwide. This subject recently came to light again in a televised open floor discussion about gun control and gun violence. I am a strong believer and supporter of our Second Amendment right to bear arms. At one point in the debate, my opponent suggested mandatory training and a proficiency test be required before purchasing a gun noting that, "if we have a test to drive a car, we should also require a test to buy a deadly firearm."

My initial response was that such an "infringement" would be unconstitutional and illegal. Common sense also tells me that gun owners naturally research the basics on their own before they get a gun. You don't just jump into a car and drive; a parent or friend teaches you the basics and with a little practice you become safe enough to take drivers education. This is all done on free will because you are interested in cars and it's part of your culture. Guns are also part of not only Vermont culture; but American culture as a whole. I'm specifically relating that connection with the great outdoors, hunting and our wildlife management system. Most Vermonters learn about firearms from a parent or a hunting friend or relative; we learn the right way and have great respect and responsibility when buying, owning and using guns. The other end of that spectrum is that even gun guys like me can not be ignorant to the fact and have to acknowledge that there are gun accidents, injuries and deaths.

Something everyone agrees on is that these things are always tragic and horrific and we should make efforts to reduce negative gun incidents in every state.

I have the magic answer in terms of my opponent's concern and request for gun training before making a purchase. This idea also helps secure the future for our natural resources and its very simple. While is is not and can not be required to actually purchase a gun because of the constitution, I suggest and believe hunter education should be mandated as standard curriculum in every school in America. I say hunter education because I believe our children should learn the science behind conservation, the history of US fish and wildlife and basic gun safety. This isn't about hunting or owning a gun — still personal choices — it's about education, basic safety and protecting our land and our wild animals. I would much rather have our kids learn the right way, in a controlled setting and from trained professionals than on the streets.

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I would suggest starting this education as early as possible, but compromising with my more liberal opponents who were freaked out by this article title; I believe junior high school would be the latest we would want this implemented. At the middle school level it would also be implemented very easily. I would require a two year "introduction to the outdoors" education for the seventh and eighth grades. I would split the school years with two quarters of physical education, one quarter of health class and one quarter of hunter education. This would include an off site field trip in year two to the gun range with a live fire field day and a written final exam. All students after successfully completing the class would receive their school credit and a hunter education card allowing them the privilege to hunt if there is further interest.

I want my kids to know and understand the value of our natural resources along with how the whole process works from the economy and ecology to the wildlife and critical habitat. I also want my kids to know about guns and basic gun safety. I want your kids to know too. We do not have to fear guns, but education and respect are a must. This education would reduce gun violence, gun accidents and gun deaths. This education would boost the declining hunter participation rates and increase economic growth and development for our communities and funding for conservation and our fish and wildlife agencies. This education would increase understanding, compassion, and acceptability for the science of sound game management, thus benefiting both wildlife and society. This education would help secure the future for our natural resources, our wildlife and this great American heritage here in the green mountain State. For the gun control proponents who request prior training before owning a gun; the concern and problem is now solved. With this education, every legal aged Vermonter (and every citizen in this Country if we took this National) would now have the basic training and proficiency tests already completed if they decide to use their second amendments Rights and purchase a firearm. I request the Governor and Vermonters think about this proposed education and ask yourselves if gun safety, the outdoors and our wildlife are important to you. If the answer is yes; then why are we not teaching this stuff to our children?

— Kevin Hoyt is conservationist and host of The Future of Hunting TV.

The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Bennington Banner.


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