Weekly Feature

2018-04-11 / Front Page

As district mulls what to do with rifles, talk of discarding them causes recoil


Matthew Kirk lines up his shot during the Red Devils’ 1,143-1,088 win over Iroquois on Feb. 13 that gave Clarence’s rifle team an 11-3 record for the season. Kirk posted a score of 293 out of 300 points to guide the Red Devils’ efforts. 
Photo by Don Daly.Matthew Kirk lines up his shot during the Red Devils’ 1,143-1,088 win over Iroquois on Feb. 13 that gave Clarence’s rifle team an 11-3 record for the season. Kirk posted a score of 293 out of 300 points to guide the Red Devils’ efforts. Photo by Don Daly.While many of its students have organized rallies, protests and even forums for congressional candidates following the Parkland, Florida, shootings, the Clarence School District is now faced with a vexing question: what  to do with a heap of .22-caliber, small-bore rifles when their competitive use is waning and their existence on school grounds is likely to stir a polarizing response.

One of the several options the district is considering is to hand the rifles over to police, who will destroy them. But according to some parents involved with Clarence High School’s rifle team, that would be a colossal waste of taxpayer money and a reflexive decision pressured by outside politics. 

For the district’s part, Superintendent Geoffrey Hicks rejects the idea that the district has already decided to dispose of the rifles altogether. The roughly 20 rifles are valued at approximately $20,000. 

“We are currently investigating all options. One of those potential options is to hand them over to police; however, that decision has not yet been made,” Hicks said.

Steven Kirk, a parent of two highly decorated members of the high school’s rifle team, believes that it took pressure from parents in order to get the district to reverse its initial course. 

“These are perfectly usable target rifles,” Kirk said. “There are clubs all over the country that are still shooting .22s.”

In March, Kirk’s daughter, Alexis, became the first individual rifle state champion in Clarence High School history. She posted a winning score of 293 out of a possible 300 points in the three-position air rifle at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Simultaneously, Kirk’s son, Matt, finished third in the standing position in three-position competition and fifth overall in the 30-shot standing competition.
The Kirks’ achievements only add to the rich history of the Clarence High School rifle team, which remains the only one of the school’s sports teams to produce an Olympic medal winner. More importantly, says Kirk, marksmanship is the safest sport that exists at the school in which a single injury has yet to be recorded. 

It would take some paperwork to transfer ownership of the rifles to another, given the state’s stringent regulations put into place as a result of the SAFE Act, and the rifles would have to be sold to a dealer with a federal firearms license, but Kirk says there’s precedent to recouping some of the cost of rifles that are no longer used by a school team.

Kirk said  he reached out to both the Alden and Iroquois school districts, both of which sold their rifles at auction and retained some of the proceeds. These profits, he says, could ensure that the rifles go toward the purchase of new equipment — a much better alternative to melting down  the guns. 
“It’s a big concern to me as a resident and a taxpayer, beyond the rifle team, is that this is school property. It was paid for by district funds,” said Kirk. “The idea of destroying it without trying to recoup some of the cash just seems to be a knee-jerk reaction.”

Hicks said the district is still  weighing the most effective option and that the process includes getting price quotes on each avenue forward. 

“We’re treating them [rifles] like any other entity,” he said. “Just like when we get school buses, we sell the old ones.”

Kirk believes the district is under increasing pressure to provide more oversight to the high school’s rifle team, given the provocative debate that surrounds the notion of guns on school grounds.

According to Kirk, further pressure was applied when Mike Ballow, the district’s school resource officer, was asked by the rifle team to provide a pistol demonstration at the school’s rifle range. When word spread of the demonstration, Kirk says, pushback from certain parents caused the district to issue a directive to the rifle team that no live ammunition would be used on the range, reversing an age-old policy of allowing students to practice with the .22-caliber rifles.  

“I’m not going to comment on anything the school resource officer did or didn’t do, but what I can say is that we are not going to melt the guns down,” Hicks said when asked about the demonstration, adding that the decision to get rid of the .22-caliber rifles has nothing to do with Ballow and everything to do with the New York State Public High School Athletic Association’s gradual movement toward the exclusive use of air rifles. 

The Clarence Bee reached out to Clarence rifle coach Bob Neubauer and district athletic director Greg Kaszubski for comment but has not yet received a response. 

The fear, Kirk says, is that the abandonment of the .22-caliber rifles is a methodical step in a progression to disband the rifle team altogether — a decision that might be seen as more supportable at a time in which support for gun control measures is at a record high.  

“The rifle team is not in danger of being disbanded. That is completely inaccurate,” Hicks said. “The rifle team has been here for 50 years, and my anticipation is that it will be here for another 50 years.” 

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