Air rifle program, new range approved at one Manchester high school
MANCHESTER — Despite vocal opposition, school board members approved a request from West High School to form an air rifle marksmanship program at the school, including constructing an air rifle range in the school’s basement.
The Union-Leader reported school board members received an email from Will Thomas, a retired Manchester school teacher and coordinator with NH Veterans for Peace, stating the organization’s opposition to the marksmanship program and building a shooting range. The group asked board members to either reject or table the request.
“Our criticism includes establishing such a “marksmanship” program conflicts with school board policy of “zero tolerance” for weapons,” writes Thomas. “Zero-tolerance policies have led to a child being expelled just for bringing a toy resembling a weapon. And, aren’t students warned against joining gangs and using violence to resolve conflict? We think it would be inconsistent if West High JROTC were to sponsor a program designed to acclimate children to violence and actively teach them the skills needed to become shooters. Such a program gives off a mixed message about guns to young people.”
But informational materials provided to board members about the proposal states “target shooting is a sport of discipline, control and non-violence. It creates attitudinal qualities in youth that make them extremely unlikely to commit acts of violence of any kind.”
According to the materials, air rifles used in target shooting are low-powered, single-shot pellet guns that have no use other than for target shooting.
In a letter to school board members, West High School Principal Chris Motika states the proposed range will meet all safety standards.
“We believe that having an approved air soft range on the premises will ensure that students remain engaged in Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC) unit, and that our enrollment in the program will continue to increase,” wrote Motika.
The West High School NJROTC program started in 1971. The Marksmanship Program was held at West High through the 1970s and 1980s, with the program moving to the Nashua Marksmanship Range in the late 1990s.
According to information provided to school board members, all cadets participating in the marksmanship program would be required to pass a safety test with a grade of 100 percent, or be denied access to the program. Range safety supervision will be conducted by at least one of the Naval Science instructors, and any violation would result in suspension or expulsion from the marksmanship team.
The program carries no cost to West High School or the city school district.