In perhaps any other year, an attempt to ban shooting sports in high schools would be dismissed and no eyebrows would be raised. However, in the current political climate, New York’s bill that would end riflery, trap shooting and archery in public schools is gaining attention, if not traction.
With shooting sports becoming more popular as official high school programs, Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal, a Democrat representing New York State’s 67th Assembly District, which includes Manhattan’s Upper West Side and parts of Hell’s Kitchen, recently introduced Bill A10428 which states that “no public school shall offer marksmanship and/or shooting programs.”
Rosenthal told the Associated Press that she introduced the bill after reports surfaced that Nikolas Cruz, the suspect in the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida,, honed his gun skills via a similar program.
“Schools should not be supporting the spread of gun culture in society,” Rosenthal said. “If parents want their children to have shooting instruction, there are opportunities that have nothing to do with the school.”
“I am unaware of any evidence that links gun violence to these programs, and the student-athletes in my district who are involved in these teams and are great, responsible kids,” fellow Assemblyman Will Barclay, a Republican from central New York, said in a statement, responding to Rosenthal’s proposal and calling it “nonsensical.”
The proposal “has reopened a debate about the benefits of responsible gun use, largely split along cultural lines between the New York City-centric downstate, and upstate areas where hunting and target shooting are more prevalent,” the AP reports. “Nationally, there are an estimated 5,000 gun clubs at high schools and universities, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation. They use a variety of firearms, from air rifles that shoot pellets to 9-mm pistols that fire bullets. Some participants hope to qualify for Olympic competition.”
The New York State Public High School Athletic Association sanctions a regional rifle championship every winter, according to the New York State Sportswriters Association. And the New York State High School Clay Target League, a club-level activity outside the authority of the NYSPHSAA, estimates more than 1,000 students are participating this spring. USA Shooting, the national governing body for the sport, reiterated the positive aspect of shooting sports.
"We have several Olympians, Paralympians and Junior Team athletes who’ve come out of the great state of New York who are not only great ambassadors for the international-style shooting sports, but good people in general in part because of the programs and coaches they worked with as young people in their home state," noted Jessica delosReyes, media representative for the NGB. "USA Shooting is proud to promote the shooting sports throughout the United States, including supporting those programs that teach young people the shooting sports in a fun, safe and responsible manner. These programs are not only vital to the growth of future Olympic and Paralympic athletes, but also help young people develop the focus, goal-setting, discipline, mindfulness, sportsmanship and responsibility required to be successful in the shooting sports, and in life." In fact, youth firearm safety initiatives at all levels, including 4-H, have stressed personal responsibility in safe handling and storage of firearms, and have noted their importance in forming the character of the athlete.
Additionally, USA Archery has stressed not only the safety of the sport for young people, but the fact that it offers them a competitive outlet better suited to their personality if they tend to be self-starters and not given to performing in a stadium setting. In addition, pop culture has given these sports a boost; the appeal of archery, for example, has grown because of movies such as The Hunger Games, Lord of the Rings and The Avengers.
"I think a lot of people don’t want to be part of a team sport and they don’t like the idea of doing something in front of a crowd of spectators. Archery is something you can do by yourself and on your own time if you want. It teaches you to focus on yourself and your shot," noted Sarah Bernstein, public relations officer, in a 2015 interview with SDM. "There were a lot of misconceptions in the past, but I think because there’s been so much more exposure when it comes to archery, that people are aware now that it’s a safe sport. There’s less stigma about danger."
Archery and gun sports, according to proponents, increase focus and enhance the ability to concentrate among students. In fact, the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP) has as its cornerstone the improvement of educational performance among students in grades four to 12. The Amateur Trap Shooting Association, meanwhile, is offering college scholarship funding to high school students who are active ATA members. Students must be enrolled full-time in an accredited college or university and maintain a minimum GPA of 2.5.
The New York legislation may also find opposition at the federal level, from the Hrecently established unting and Shooting Sports Conservation Council, whose stated mission includes the encouragement of benefit of recreational hunting and recreational shooting sports.
Rosenthal’s bill is in New York State’s Education Committee and has yet to advance.