NASHUA — With a vote of 5-3, the Board of Education gave the green light for the Nashua Air Force Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps to provide an air rifle marksmanship course on a field behind Nashua High School North.
“We are talking about some of our most responsible students in the district,” Heather Raymond, board president, said of the JROTC participants, adding they have a strict code of conduct, significant supervision and a qualified weapons teacher.
Three members of the Board of Education opposed the initiative this week. They said they had hoped that the JROTC program would instead consider running its marksmanship program about a mile off campus at the Horse Pond Fish and Game Club property.
Board member Susan Porter said she supports the program, but alternative locations should be considered for shooting practice.
“I believe that our schools should be gun-free zones and the only people with weapons on school grounds should be law enforcement personnel,” said Porter, adding that air rifles look like real guns.
Maj. Brian Newton, who helps lead Nashua’s JROTC program, said that in the 40 years since JROTC units across the country have been participating in marksmanship courses, there have been zero incidents.
“There will be significantly more injuries with any of the contact sports than with marksmanship,” he told the board. “ … Please take emotion out of the equation and make a decision based on logic and reason.”
Howard Coffman, board member, said he strongly supports the initiative, adding the marksmanship course could attract future cadets.
“I think we need to look at the larger JROTC program and its enrollment and understand that its success may very well lie on this one component,” said Coffman.
According to him, the local group currently has 96 students participating.
“Guns are scary. I am afraid of guns — they are weapons,” countered Raymond Guarino, board member. He said he is not opposed to the course, but is opposed to having it take place in the backyard of Nashua High School North. He said that space belongs to all citizens, including those who are not comfortable with guns.
Elizabeth Van Twuyver, board member, said she has no problem with the course taking place on the school campus.
“I trust these men with my life,” she said.
The board ultimately voted to allow the course to take place on school grounds, stating that the program will prepare the students for a service career.