A bill to ban marksmanship and shooting programs in New York State schools is making its way through the state Assembly. But many upstate representatives in athletics, government, and anti-gun violence advocacy see the bill as a poorly thought out.
The bill to amend state education law to ban marksmanship programs from New York public schools came just two months after the shooting that took 17 lives at a Parkland, Florida high school. Democratic Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal of Manhattan is the sole sponsor of the bill, and claims that alleged gunman Nicholas Cruz learned how to commit those murders as a member of the school’s rifle team.
Holland Central Schools Athletic Director Matthew Adams said while he recognizes the Assemblywoman’s concerns, the lessons taught to his air rifle and archery teams don’t translate into a culture of gun violence.
“Everything is done based on teaching kids about safety first and the proper way to use some of these firearms and or bows,” said Adams.
Students learn about precision, accuracy, and control.
“It’s all done based on scoring points, rather than taking lives and things like that,” he said.
For some students in Western New York, learning how to fire a gun or a bow is part of their community’s culture.
“There were kids that I went to school with that, if they didn’t hunt, they didn’t eat meat,” recalled Republican Assemblyman Ray Walter.
Walter said Rosenthal’s bill doesn’t recognize that for people like him who grew up in a rural area, the first day of hunting season was a regular school holiday.
“And so she needs to understand that,” said Walter. “And that’s not the way that people in Manhattan think or live. That’s just not how the rest of the state operates.”
Air rifle shooting is the smallest varsity sport in New York with 28 teams and 266 participants. Archery is more widespread with 320 school programs and 34,000 students. But while neither may be as common as football or basketball, Walter said it’s important for the students who take part.
“They gain experience. I mean, there’s Olympic sports that go along with shooting,” he said. “Give them the opportunity to excel at something that they enjoy.”
On the Democratic side of the aisle, Walter’s Western New York colleague Robin Schimminger also sees the bill as poorly thought out. And outside of government, they’re not the only ones.
Paul McQuillen, upstate coordinator with New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, called the bill well-intentioned, but misguided.
“I don’t foresee, one, any chance of it going anywhere and, two, I don’t see any chance of [New Yorkers Against Gun Violence] supporting it either,” said McQuillen.
McQuillen specified that New Yorkers Against Gun Violence is not an anti-gun organization, and he said he has no problem with students having access to firearms or archery equipment in an approved, supervised environment.
“If students and tax payers want to participate and fund these activities, I think that’s fine,” he said. “I’d much rather have students who know what they’re doing with guns – if they’re going to have access to them – to know how to use them than not to know how to use them.”
For now, the bill has moved to the Assembly’s education committee. With only one sponsor, and no matching legislation on the Senate side, support looks limited for its future.
See the full bill to amend state education law to ban marksmanship programs from New York public schools here.
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