Simply turning on the television or scrolling on your cellphone is all it takes to immerse yourself in the divided political landscape of our nation. Recently an unexpected unifier — youth archery — became a catalyst and one of the eventual unifying forces in the polarized political environment of the United States. Over the course of several months, people from different political viewpoints came together in an instantaneous show of support for youth shooting sports.
After a wave of school shootings, federal legislators created the Bipartisan Safe Communities Act (BPSCA) in the fall of 2022. This legislation was intended to increase support for school and community safety and help mitigate tragedies like the one in Uvalde, Texas. Although the BPSCA was written with the best of intentions, educators were soon faced with some unintended consequences due to the language within the legislation.
In late spring of 2023, several schools in Alaska were contemplating the launch of the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP®). Following the actions of other states, they were considering using funds from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to train teachers as instructors for this program. Prior to the utilization of the federal money, the schools sought guidance from the United States Department of Education. After reviewing the language of the BPSCA, representatives of the USDE provided guidance that archery instruction, hunter education, or any other similar training involving the use of “deadly weapons” would be prohibited for the use of ESEA funds under the terms of the BPSCA.
The result of this guidance soon became public, and immediately almost every organization related to conservation or the shooting sports was discussing the issue – with NASP® at the forefront. What began as a trickle of communication, soon became a torrent of concern, confusion, and disbelief. Many wondered how these long proven and safe programs could contrast with the intention of the BPSCA and be out of bounds for the use of federal funds.
Staff members from several congressional offices soon began to reach out to NASP® and hunter education organizations and others to gain insight on the impact of these programs on millions of school-age students. Conservation groups and Directors of Fish and Wildlife agencies soon developed talking points on the value these programs on the future of conservation efforts and advised federal legislators on possible solutions.
Parents, grandparents, foster families, and mentors of all kinds also began contacting their federal representatives to explain what these programs have done and continue to do for their students. They begged for solutions to this new barrier potentially blocking the expansion of these valuable programs. The groundswell of support for a solution might have begun as a trickle, but soon became a mighty unified voice from urban, suburban, and rural origins. For weeks, the developing situation was covered daily by multiple media outlets.
Finally, legislators acted. Support started flowing from both sides of the political aisles and legislators began drafting bills to submit for potential resolutions. One piece of legislation, HR5110, rose above all others with support from the nation’s most respected conservation and shooting sports organizations. HR5110 established language where federal funds could be used for the promotion of hunter education and youth shooting sports such as NASP®. Once HR5110 was introduced in the house, it passed rapidly with only one opposing vote. The bill quickly passed in the consent agenda of the senate and a few days later, the president signed it into law.
HR5110 became one of the most rapidly approved legislative actions related to the shooting sports in recent times. In a nation divided on issues involving guns, gun violence and student safety, why did archery instruction and hunter education matter so much to so many people from so many walks of life?
The answer lies in a simple truth: Archery and the shooting sports are transformative in the lives of the young people who participate. Millions of students receive instruction in archery, shotgun, rifle, air rifle, and hunter education across the nation every year. These programs provide multiple benefits to young people including:
- A lifelong understanding of the paramount need for safety.
- An understanding of the need for personal accountability and responsibility.
- A foundation in the value and promotion of sportsmanship and ethics.
- Persistence through the process where marksmanship skills develop.
- Experience in dealing with pressure from various competitions.
- The value of becoming a contributing member of a team—many for the first time.
- A lifelong commitment to the value of conservation and the continuation of the outdoor lifestyle.
Students acquire these benefits through interaction with a coach, mentor or sponsor who often volunteers their time to work with students in the shooting sports or in hunter education instruction. Millions of adults in communities large and small give of their time and effort to work with young people in these disciplines. They develop long lasting relationships and become someone of relevance. Through the instruction of various disciplines over the course of weeks or months, they help students not only become proficient in their chosen discipline, but they soon help many make academic and behavioral improvements. They form relationships that outlast graduation and transcend into adulthood.
Perhaps, it was this “truth” alone that led so many individuals to contact their federal representative. Perhaps they knew that through their time with kids in the shooting sports, they were making a difference with students that otherwise might not have anyone else in that role. Perhaps they simply wanted as many students as possible to have the opportunity to experience what they had seen —transformative positive change through participation in archery and other shooting sports. Perhaps, it was this “truth” that brought red and blue together, Democrat and Republican.
From our perspective, this situation embodies what may still be the best of America; it demonstrates how people of different perspectives can unite to eliminate barriers for students. We believe that this situation illustrates just how deeply Americans care about the future of conservation and the preservation of the youth shooting sports.
On behalf of all the 1.3 million active student archers, as well as the millions of students that now have an easier path to be introduced to NASP®, THANK YOU to everyone who helped to develop this resolution!
Thomas G. Floyd Ed.D.
The National Archery in the Schools Program
To learn more about the National Archery in the Schools Program, please visit: