Monday, August 14, 2006

College students have organized clubs on dozens of campuses to defend their Second Amendment rights — and to have fun with guns.

“We go to the gun range because it’s fun and educational,” said Michaela LeBlanc, a senior at Smith College in Northampton, Mass. Miss LeBlanc travels to the nearby Smith & Wesson Shooting Sports Center with friends from the Smith College Republicans. This fall, they will seek recognition from the college as an official club.

At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Dax Dixson founded the Tar Heel Rifle and Pistol Club. He said he thought fellow students would benefit from shooting, a skill he started learning before elementary school. The club sponsors lectures on Second Amendment rights and gun safety and travels to ranges to allow members to practice shooting disciplines.

Mr. Dixson said the university provides funding for speakers and shooting supplies on the condition that club members use all ammunition on the same day they purchase it.

The conservative Leadership Institute, based in Arlington, is among the outside organizations helping students start campus gun clubs.

The institute formed its Campus Leadership Program in 1997 “to assist conservative students in the forming of independent groups on their own campuses,” said Morton Blackwell, founder and president of the institute. “In many cases, the left has succeeded in making campuses left-wing indoctrination centers.”

Field representatives from the Campus Leadership Program help students “choose what the focus of their activities is going to be,” he said, and then work with them to develop the leadership skills they need to maintain their organization.

He said about 45 of the 738 active groups with which the program works are dedicated to Second Amendment issues.

To recruit field representatives, Gun Owners of America sponsored an ad that began, “Do you know someone who is pro-gun, who likes working with college-age kids, and who is in need of a full-time job in the fall?”

Second Amendment Sisters Inc. focuses on teaching women to shoot but also supports college gun clubs.

“Guns have been so demonized” to college students, said Mari Thompson, president and founder of Second Amendment Sisters. “We want to make sure that [students] know what the facts are, so they will carry on when we’re gone.”

The organization is looking for campuses with enough interest in forming student groups.

Students for the Second Amendment began at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. Damaso Torres said he and co-founder Ryan Bragg “wanted to do skeet and trap shoots for students twice per year.”

The group’s Collegiate Firearms Instructor Program trains college students to become instructors certified by the National Rifle Association. Through close ties with the firearms industry and product donation, Students for the Second Amendment offers instruction at a heavily discounted price. In the past academic year, the group trained “4,100 kids in and around South Texas.” It also has three certified NRA counselors who are qualified to train potential instructors.

Mr. Torres said Students for the Second Amendment has established a group at every campus where it has made the effort and experienced little resistance from school administrators. “There are a lot of students that think the way we do,” he said.

He said campus chapters let students realize they are not alone in their views and give them support to speak up in class to defend the Second Amendment.

The group is funded mainly through an independent effort. Mr. Torres credits an interest group on the social network for attracting many of the 2,000 members.

“We respect the right of young people to discuss this issue,” said Peter Hamm, communications director for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “The more people study it, the more likely we are to curb gun violence in this country, and that involves new laws.”

Mr. Hamm has told Cybercast News Service ( that college gun groups are “absolutely not a problem,” and that it is now “much more likely that young people who think we need stronger gun laws in this country are likely to make sure their voices are heard, too.”

He did not cite any examples of campus groups in favor of stricter gun laws.

Students often have called for gun control, especially in response to events such as the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., but those favoring gun rights have become increasingly active.

Miss LeBlanc said the gun club at Smith “will be a great tool to educate students about the Second Amendment” and it will help “take away the stigma” about firearms.

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