The ordinary, now extraordinary: Shocking facility just opened at North Carolina high school

The ordinary, now extraordinary: Shocking facility just opened at North Carolina high school
Smithfield Selma NJROTC students pose with their training rifles. (Image: Screen grab of Fox News video)

Smithfield, NC may be, by any standards, a small town (population less than 13,000), but it’s the county seat, and its high school has a robust Junior ROTC program.  In fact, courtesy of the Navy JROTC unit at Smithfield-Selma High School, it now has an indoor shooting range, where the NJROTC students can practice with Daisy pump air rifles.

The most remarkable thing is that this seems noteworthy to anyone.

The indoor range was opened last week.  According to local news reports, most of the $10,000 in supplies for the range were donated by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

The unit’s faculty sponsor, retired Navy Commander David Wegman, explains:

[S]tudents have to undergo extensive training before they can head to the range.

“There’s a marksmanship safety test they have to take, and they have to get a 100 on it,” Commander David Wegman said. “In addition to that, they have to sign a safety pledge, get permission from home and then finally demonstrate on the range that they know how to handle one of these air rifles safely.”

Only four JROTC students are certified to use Smithfield-Selma High’s shooting range, but Wegman said he hopes to have all of the seniors in the program certified by the fall.

The unit looks pretty small, based on its pictures from social media.  CDR Wegman will probably be able to achieve his objective.

A Smithfield Selma NJROTC student on the range. (Image: Screen grab of WRAL-TV video)
A Smithfield Selma NJROTC student on the range. (Image: Screen grab of WRAL-TV video) notes the results of a reader poll conducted by WRAL, the NBC affiliate in Raleigh, on whether or not a school should have a shooting range:

A reader poll conducted by WRAL showed 40 percent of those who responded to the question “should a shooting range be allowed at a high school?” said yes, while 34 percent answered yes, but only for those trained to handle a gun, and the remaining 26 percent said no.

I’m undecided as to whether the numbers are surprising or not.  Yes, it’s North Carolina; but WRAL’s audience area is around Raleigh, which tends to have more left-wing, gun-phobic people than in other parts of the state.

The “yes, but only for those trained to handle a gun” response is kind of silly.  Of course only for those trained – but that’s one of the two main things ranges are for: training people to handle guns.  The other is keeping in practice and improving your shooting.

A few years ago, Charles C.W. Cooke pointed out, in a great article at National Review, that gun clubs, shooting teams, and ranges used to be present at public high schools all across America.

Shooting clubs, now quietly withering away, were once such a mainstay of American high-school life that in the first half of the 20th century they were regularly installed in the basements of new educational buildings.

Many LU readers can probably remember when this was the case.  There are still shooting ranges and gun clubs at high schools, but far, far fewer than there were only two decades ago.  Cooke recounts one mother’s story:

A Chicago Tribune report from 2007 notes the astonishment of a Wisconsin mother who discovered that her children’s school had a range on site. “I was surprised, because I never would have suspected to have something like that in my child’s school,” she told the Tribune. The district’s superintendent admitted that it was now a rarity, confessing that he “often gets raised eyebrows” if he mentions the range to other educators. The astonished mother raised her eyebrows — and then led a fight to have the range closed. “Guns and school don’t mix,” she averred. “If you have guns in school, that does away with the whole zero-tolerance policy.”

If faced with Cooke’s next point, quoting Thomas Jefferson, the Wisconsin mother would probably purse her lips and say something vague but determined about Jefferson writing more than 200 years ago, for heaven’s sake.

The notion that guns should form a part of education has a rich pedigree in our republic. In 1785, Thomas Jefferson wrote to his 15-year-old nephew Peter Carr with some scholarly advice. Having instructed him to read “antient history in detail” and expounded a little on which works of “Roman history” and “Greek and Latin poetry” were the most profitable, Jefferson counseled that

a strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercise, I advise the gun. While this gives moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise and independence to the mind. Games played with the ball and others of that nature are too violent for the body and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun therefore be the constant companion of your walks.

Such attitudes would no doubt be regarded as alarming today, as unthinkable as the old — and true — slogan that “America grew up with a rifle in its hand.”

The NJROTC unit at Smithfield-Selma won’t be walking anywhere with loaded guns.  But, for the time being, it will be shooting pellets from air rifles at its new range.  WRAL, naturally, had to couch its report in tendentious terms (emphasis added):

Despite the national debate about gun violence and school shootings, Wegman said the shooting range poses no threat.

“The procedures that we have in place ensure that we do the same thing, the same way, every single time,” he said.

All the components that go into transmitting a responsible armed-citizen culture from one generation to the next are actually the best vaccination against “gun violence and school shootings.”  We have lost sight of that reality with surprising speed in the last few decades.  There are other very important components to be addressed, of course, like responsible fatherhood, appreciating responsible fatherhood, and the meaning of personal accountability.  Firearms training is just one aspect of the whole culture.

But maybe the little range opening up in Smithfield will help start the pendulum swinging back again.

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval Intelligence officer who lives in Southern California, blogging as The Optimistic Conservative for domestic tranquility and world peace. Her articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s Contentions, Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard.

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