A recent Mother Jones article posed the simple question, “Should colleges buy ammo for student gun clubs?”
The article, which remains almost balanced (surprising for the left-leaning rhetoric of Mother Jones), focuses on a much larger issue: in the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, how will institutionalized shooting sports survive? How will shooting clubs and rifle teams at secondary schools and colleges escape the knee-jerk reactionary judgement of school administrators, parents and even other students?
The current flap is brewing at the University of North Carolina. Concerned about potential liability, Austin Root, a Student Congress Representative, authored a bill making it harder for The Tar Heel Rifle and Pistol Club to use school funds to purchase ammunition. The bill passed.
Why is Root concerned? In a Facebook conversation from last fall (pre-Newtown), Root wrote, “I don’t think [ammo is] an appropriate use of student funds.” Mother Jones was able to pull more from Root, who explained “it’s stored off-campus at someone’s house, and if someone breaks in and uses it for a mass shooting people might consider those who approved the funds to be at fault.”
Root’s heart might be in the right place, but he seems less concerned that someone might actually commit another horrific crime than the possibility that he might share in the blame.
Someone might get their hands on all of that .22LR. And if they didn’t sell it online for $200 a brick, they might be tempted to use all of the underpowered little rimfires for nefarious purposes. But it seems dubious.
The role of shooting sports in colleges and universities
But that’s why we send our sons and daughters to college, right? To educate them. And Root has not yet graduated form North Carolina’s flagship public institution; we can assume he could benefit from a bit more schooling.
And I swear I can hear Duke students laughing from here.
But let’s look at this from a more serious angle. I teach at a college that uses its martial past and sporting traditions as marketing tools.
Hampden-Sydney College is one of the last all male colleges in the country. We know our students well, and cater to their interests.
This is from our recruitment materials.
I like to hunt and fish. Is there any way to do that at Hampden-Sydney College?
Hampden-Sydney is located in the middle of Southside Virginia – home to some of the best turkey and deer hunting on the east coast. Hampden-Sydney’s 1,330 acre campus has three small lakes stocked with bass and other assorted game fish. For those who seek a larger challenge, the area around campus has copious hunting and fishing options. Briery Creek is located five minutes to the south and is home not only to some of the best largemouth bass fishing in the nation, but also offers students the opportunity to hunt deer, duck, dove and turkey. Sandy River Reservoir, about 15 minutes from campus, offers additional opportunities for fishing. Many H-SC students are members of local hunt clubs and will invite non-member students to participate in club outings. Also, some local farmers give students hunting rights in exchange for occasional help with various jobs on the farm.
And it is true. I learned in my first semester not to schedule assignments on the opening weekend of hunting season. While my preppy students often show up to class wearing Nantucket Red pants, sports coats and bow ties, they’re just as likely to show up decked out in RealTree.
That sounds like a lot of hunting and fishing. Does that mean I can keep my rifle in my room?
Although the College gives its students a lot of trust and responsibility, it doesn’t go quite that far; however, students are allowed to keep bows, rifles and shotguns on campus in our gun locker. Handguns are prohibited on campus. [...] All firearms on campus are required to be stored in the gun locker, and not in students’ rooms or vehicles. The convenient location of the gun locker allows access even for the earliest morning hunts.
Does this mean that students don’t bring their handguns to campus? Of course they do. Like every college everywhere, the students break the rules. And we’ve had issues with guns. But we may also have one of the most open environments for honest conversation of any post secondary institution in the country.
And it is this openness that has allowed for the formation of a kick-ass scatter gun team that’s competing on the national stage.
Hampden-Sydney College’s clay target club received a $6,000 grant through the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s Collegiate Shooting Sports Initiative. The CSSI is an NSSF grant program designed specifically for clubs and shooting teams that need a financial leg-up. The CSSI distributes $300,000 a year in support of shooting clubs. The program also provides expertise and a significant network for like minded students.
Hampden-Sydney’s team relied on member funds and some generous donations to keep themselves shooting their first year. Now they have the grant money to help cover some expenses.
And the school helps, as well. I spoke with Tucker Bulleit, president of the club.
“Our problem is that school clubs go in-and-out constantly. Currently, I believe we’re at the strongest we’ve ever been as a group and need all the support we can get,” Bulleit says. “[Hampden-Sydney] pays for clays and shells (which are expensive), and I believe they should. [We get] $2,500 each semester, but with ammo prices/clay prices and rental fees- I think that’s a very low number.”
I can attest to that. The club practices regularly, off campus on land that’s been donated for the purpose. They typically shoot for a couple of hours, twice a week.
The last time I attended a practice, they had six automated throwers going non stop for that entire time. “We probably end up spending 20-50 bucks a month out of our own pockets,” Bulleit says. “Each member owns his own gun. Practices aren’t too expensive, but [we pay for] travel.”
Is it worth it for these guys? I think so. I know most of them, and several have been my students. What began as something rather casual has, in only two years, become a serious asset to the college.
“We’re going to Nationals (The 2013 Collegiate Clay Target Championship), which would replace ‘club’ with the title of TEAM.”
Show them some support
If I know anything about college clubs, it is this. The “money” isn’t coming from the colleges, exactly. Colleges are simply dispersing students’ tuition dollars. So they should have some say in the matter.
But once a club sport finds a place in the pantheon of official college athletics, there is much more money available. But even with such a designation, there is still not enough for shooting sports. And this won’t account for clubs like the one at UNC that want to do more diverse shooting.
But for those institutions who don’t allow themselves to be governed by paranoia, shooting sports can be a part of an institution’s identity, and can make a difference in the lives of its students.
See what’s going on at your old alma mater. And maybe chip in a bit, as an alum, and let them know where your gift should go.