State law, school policy clash over guns
Sam LaGrone, Staff Writer
ZEBULON - For Robert Lumley, the decision to bar his East Wake High
School club marksmanship team from a statewide shooting tournament was
as arresting as a shotgun blast.
Less than a day before the March 15 district round of the decades-old
N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission competition, one of East Wake's
principals, with the support of the area superintendent who oversees
that school, stopped the team from participating.
The reason: Ammo and students don't mix, the school officials said.
Like districts across the nation, Wake County bans deadly weapons from
campuses and prohibits students from carrying them on school trips.
But the decision to bar the East Wake team from the tournament extends
that prohibition to students participating in an off-campus event
sponsored by a state agency and supervised by adults certified in
That call pits school policy against state law that allows firearms
education at schools. The decision also runs counter to the efforts of
wildlife agencies, hunting organizations and gun groups to recruit
youths to replenish the dwindling number of hunters. It also
underscores the tension between the fear of school massacres and the
traditions of rural Wake, where hunting is still common.
"I can appreciate the fact they may have a policy, but all the
government agencies need to remember, they're there to serve the
public," said Wes Seegars, chairman of the N.C. Wildlife Resources
Commission. "There is something lost in a policy that does not serve
the needs of the community."
The East Wake decision nullified months of practice by Lumley, a
17-year-old senior, and the rest of the 16-member marksmanship and
orienteering team -- an offshoot of the school-approved FFA club,
formerly known as the Future Farmers of America.
Lumley was riding with a team member the day before the tournament
when he got the call that the principal "had put the red light on it,"
"If we had more time, we could have done something about it," Lumley said.
Not all Wake schools treat marksmanship teams the same.
Cary High School allows students to use air rifles in
school-sanctioned events. Cary's Navy JROTC program fires .117-caliber
air rifles as part of off-campus competitions, principal Douglas
"We have had no issues with it," Thilman said.
The difference between East Wake and Cary is that JROTC programs are
part of the school curriculum and FFA clubs are not, according to Wake
Superintendent Del Burns.
The participation of Lumley's team in the shooting tournament came to
the attention of school officials when another Wake school sought
permission to participate.
That request drew the attention of Danny Barnes, area superintendent,
and Sebastian Shipp, one of four principals at East Wake, and prompted
them to review the status of Lumley's marksmanship team. This led to
East Wake not being allowed to compete because of district policy.
"It's not a criticism of what the kids are trying to do," Barnes said.
Burns said these kinds of decisions are up to each principal.
At least one gun-control advocate agrees with the decision.
"The school and school board should have that right," said Roxane
Kolar, executive director of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence.
"You have to assume a school knows what's best for their school."
The Wildlife Commission tournament, now in its 30th year, is an
incentive for middle school and high school students to participate in
the hunter education course and is part of a larger effort to attract
youths to hunting.
Each year, close to 2,000 middle and high-schoolers compete at the
district level across the state. The competition is broken up into
skeet shooting, rifle marksmanship, archery, and navigation across
forests and fields. The state competition is in late April.
Chris Huebner of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission hunter's
education program said the tournament promotes safety and is far from
"What we teach is what the consequences are and what [guns are]
capable of doing," Huebner said. "It's all in the perspective of
Like many competitors in the tournament, East Wake's team members are
graduates of the state's hunter education program and are part of the
school's FFA club, led by adviser and East Wake teacher Janet Harris.
Harris has taught hunter education at East Wake and coached the
tournament team for 22 years. She said her charges aren't happy about
being barred from this year's competition.
"They were very disappointed, very upset," Harris said. "There's
nothing we can do about it."
A question of fairness
Lumley's mother, Carol, said the hunting education team's members are
being unfairly characterized by the school system.
"It's not like we're the rednecks that have to have guns," she said.
"If this was promoting violence, what about wrestling? Is that
promoting hand-to-hand combat?"
Robert Lumley and the rest of the team practiced at neighbors' farms
and kept the guns off school grounds.
"Farm boys and guns go hand in hand," said Fred Ammons, who has hosted
the team's tryouts on his farm.
For Lumley, months of hard training made the last-minute prohibition
difficult to accept. Barred from competing on a Friday, Lumley's first
thoughts when he woke up the next day were locked on the Saturday
"When I looked at the clock, it was 11 a.m.," he said. "The first
thing I thought was, 'Is the tournament over yet?' "
(Staff writer T. Keung Hui contributed to this report)
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Staff writer T. Keung Hui contributed to this report