Air rifle course suspended amid public ‘fear’

Telegraph photo by GRACE PECCI Board of Education members Howard Coffman and Doris Hohensee listen to the public’s concern over the previously board-approved JROTC markmanship course. The board voted Monday to temporarily suspend the course.

NASHUA – From the “fear” of “normalizing guns in schools,” to concerns of lead contaminating the environment, numerous speakers on Monday expressed opposition to the planned JROTC air rifle course for the campus of Nashua High School North.

After the nearly four-hour Monday Board of Education meeting, members voted 7-2 to suspend the marksmanship program … which they had previously approved by a 5-3 vote during the April 30 board session.

The BOE is not eliminating plans for the Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps marksmanship program, but is delaying its implementation until members gain more information. This includes efforts to learn if the Horse Pond Fish & Game, a range that resides a little more than a mile from school, is a viable alternative location for the air rifle course.

Many speaking Monday opposed the course entirely because they cannot handle the notion of any type of firearm being near a school. Other speakers said they would not mind the course if it is farther away from the school building. They brought with them reasons such as the fear of normalizing guns on campus, wind issues with pellets, fear of location and the effects of lead pellets on grass.

Nashua High School North’s JROTC program representatives Maj. Brian Newton, Master Sgt. Nick Ellis and Cadet Col. Adam Landry, along with their fellow cadets have attended four board meetings now in hopes to receive approval for the program to take place on school grounds.

“We are not here to divide a community or cause undue media attention,” Newton said Monday. “Our sole purpose is to provide the best educational environment for our cadets that meets the mission and goals set forth by JROTC and agreed upon by the district. Marksmanship does all that. It instills a sense of accomplishment, competition and team work and enhances attention to detail.”

Newton also spoke on the concern brought up by multiple speakers during the evening regarding potential harms from using lead pellets.

“Lead is not the only thing we can use. We can use steel pellets, or we can use composite pellets. For competition, the lead pellets are required, but for practice, they aren’t required,” Newton said.

Once Newton finished, Landry spoke to address more concerns.

“JROTC has taken your concerns very seriously and we would like to speak to all the concerns that have been voiced,” Landry said.

“People claim that we are normalizing weapons on school ground. Our air rifles will not be used as weapons, but rather as equipment for sport and education. The air rifles will not be visible other than on the range past 2:30 (p.m.), so they will not be interfering with students’ classwork,” Landry said.

“This program is not new or out of the ordinary. We are simply asking to bring a successful program that thousands of other schools have at Nashua North so that Nashua can be a part of that success and opportunity,” Landry said.

“People also say the presence and vision of air rifles will cause fear in students. Yes fear exists, so it would be ignorant for us to dismiss it. Fear, however, is an inevitable emotion that should not validate these arguments,” Landry added. “According to a student research survey, 33.7% of teens fear test taking. Should we ban teachers from giving exams?”

Of the lead pellets, Landry said, “People also claim we will cause lead contamination and disruption to the environment. The backdrop will catch all pellets that will drop into a catch basin. Pellets will be properly disposed of and will not be left on the field. In addition, we are willing to compromise and utilize composite pellets for our program. Cadets will only ever use lead pellets or competitions, which will take place off campus.”

He said range time and participation will be greatly hindered if the program goes to an alternative site.

Once public comment was finished, board members decided to enter a closed-door session. Upon re-entering regular session, board member Elizabeth Van Twuyver, who originally supported approving the program on campus, moved to temporarily suspend the program on campus. Ultimately Van Twuyver’s motion passed, 7-2.

The next regular BOE meeting is set for 7 p.m. May 28 at Nashua High School North, 8 Titan Way.