Tension Over Shooting Sports In Schools

Aug 30, 2019
Originally published on August 30, 2019 7:20 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

More kids in this country are learning about guns in school, not just in the context of gun violence. There's a push to grow target shooting as a high-school sport. It's controversial, in part, because the NRA is involved. Indiana Public Broadcasting's Jeanie Lindsay has the story.

JEANIE LINDSAY, BYLINE: In a rural neighborhood northeast of Indianapolis, neighbors Ally Fulp and Levi Dotson are shooting at clay targets. Ally's dad feeds targets into a simple-looking machine. The kids yell pull, and the clay disc goes whipping through the air.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

LINDSAY: The two Indiana high schoolers have been doing this for years. They've both started thinking about college. And while they may have the scores and grades to apply to some of the best schools in the country, there's another priority. They're looking to join a college trap shooting team.

LEVI DOTSON: One of the colleges that I've been looking at recently actually has a competitive shotgun team, which I thought would be really cool.

LINDSAY: Fulp and Dotson are two of the most experienced shooters on their high-school-backed team. And more teams start every year. Only three years ago, the Indiana High School Clay Target League had just one team. Now there are 15. Club shooting teams have existed for decades, and Lapel High School trap shooting team coach John Beeman says including more young people can help keep the culture alive.

JOHN BEEMAN: We want to expand that, so it doesn't go away. So, like, the club we're in here now - you've got a lot of senior members here.

LINDSAY: Beeman says, ideally, having more students on more teams will cause a ripple effect.

BEEMAN: So what I'm hoping happens is that this little nucleus of kids goes out and multiplies a little bit. And then that someone in that school takes the initiative to say, hey, we want a league here in this school.

LINDSAY: And those efforts appear to be working. Twenty-eight states now have high-school leagues. In Oregon, two dozen high-school teams have started in just the past two years. Just to be clear, students don't bring guns to school. They practice after school at nearby gun ranges. But recruiting kids in classrooms raises concerns for people like Indiana University professor Paul Helmke, an avid gun control advocate.

PAUL HELMKE: I get a little suspicious any time I sense that people are trying to push more guns into more places.

LINDSAY: Helmke is quick to say he's not anti-gun. He points to a media guide from the USA Clay Target League that describes its key audience as, quote, "young shooting sport enthusiasts ready to purchase." Outside groups do help fund shooting teams, raising money for guns, targets and ammo. Friends of NRA, the fundraising arm of the group, last year raised more than a million dollars just in Indiana. Helmke says, these days, the NRA seems to focus more on gun sales than on gun safety.

HELMKE: The NRA that was around in the 1960s when I took gun classes and learned that safety then got my NRA badges is not the same as the NRA is today.

LINDSAY: But Coach John Beeman says he focuses less on politics and more on how his team practices and performs.

BEEMAN: Come out and shoot with us. Come to the club. Come see the kids. Interact with them. And then you tell me if this is a worthwhile endeavor or not.

LINDSAY: Ally Fulp thinks expanding the sport is worth it, especially if it means recruiting more girls.

ALLY FULP: The guys definitely underestimate the girls. Definitely. I hope that they remember that we can still beat them. We can beat them hard.

LINDSAY: And that's what she hopes to do by shattering enough clay targets to compete in the Junior Olympics. For NPR News, I'm Jeanie Lindsay. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.