Thursday, April 18, 2019

Summer camp becomes victim of New York’s gun safety bill

Having been a Boy Scout, camp counselor and volunteer for the past 30 years, I can attest that the shooting sports program is one of the most popular – and most important – aspects of summer camp.

For more than a half-century, boys have been thrilled to use the rifle range at Camp Dittmer, the Finger Lakes-based property that serves the Boy Scouts of our local Iroquois Trail Council. Being able to learn about and use firearms is not only a highlight of their summer, something they look forward to all winter, but it’s also a highlight of their lives as it provides respectful exposure to an interest they will carry with them forever.

Because of the seed planted at our shooting range they later pursued involvement in: shooting sports clubs, giving them a competitive outlet at their schools or conservation clubs; hunting, which has helped them put food on the table for their families; and public service, which has seen them protect our citizens through law enforcement or the military.

Knowing that impact, the shooting sports are not something taken lightly at the Council. They‘ve made sure the facilities are well-equipped and well-fortified.

Through the years the Council has invested in the best rifles and shotguns and have secured donations of the same from organizations like the Safari Club. The scouts use .22-calibre rifles, black powder guns, and shotguns of various gauges. 

Just last year, local scouters oversaw the construction of a new shotgun range at Camp Dittmer, the outcome of an idea and sizable gift from an Orleans County benefactor who knows the magic of camp. The facility became a reality because of him and dozens more donors who chipped in after WHAM’s Bob Lonsberry graciously gave me airtime to talk about the campaign.

The new facility was a $14,000 investment that will pay huge dividends in the boys’ lives...that is, if they can use it.

The days might be numbered for most scouts to earn the rifle shooting merit badge thanks to a threat from legislation that has passed the Senate and Assembly and is now awaiting the Governor’s signature.

You likely saw television news stories or read newspaper reports about A02686A /S02450A, an alleged response to school shootings that amends provisions relating to requirements for storage of firearms. It requires gun owners to lock their guns away when minors are in the home or in their presence unless the child is at least 16 years of age or possesses a hunting permit.

Much has been written on editorial pages or talked about on radio about the flaws of the bill, primarily how it inhibits the ability of homeowners to have immediate access to their firearms if they have to defend themselves -- usually predators don’t give victims time to go get their guns and unlock them. 

One thing that has been mostly overlooked is the impact the nuanced language of the law will have on Camp Dittmer, every other camp in the state, and shooting organizations like the sporting clay club recently started by Albion High School.

Last week, in a letter to the editor of the Watertown Daily Times, Lewis County Sheriff Michael Carpinelli wrote, “…the law prohibits the owner of a firearm from knowingly allowing any person younger than 16 to have access to their firearms unless the firearm is in their “immediate possession or control” outside of the home, unless said youth has a hunting license and is hunting. The only way for a loaded firearm to be in the “immediate possession or control” of the owner is to be within arm’s reach at all times.”

The good sheriff continued, ”this bill will effectively outlaw all youth shooting activities, competitions and training for those individuals younger than 16 who are not hunting.”

If his assessment is correct – and it should be; he is, after all, a lawman – then what happens at summer camps and every other youth-focused shooting event will not be allowed -- that is, a certified riflery instructor and assistant overseeing up to 10 kids at a time at a range. There is no direct one-on-one for each shooter; it’s done in a well-organized group setting.

This would destroy the summer camp experience for local boys. At the age of 16 most age out of Scouting; as the adage goes, they succumb to fumes – car fumes and perfumes. Almost all attending Dittmer are ages 12 to 15. None of them would be allowed to utilize the shooting range unless they had a hunting license, which many scouts don’t – the whole point of our facility is to get them interested.  

If this bill is signed by Andrew Cuomo, 2019 might be the last summer that various camps like ours can offer shooting sports without otherwise adding significant manpower and, in turn, a very significant cost to the campers’ families (which won’t fly in the stressed upstate economy). A02686A /S02450A has the very real potential to deny countless young men a critical part of the summer camp – and life -- experience.

From the 22 April 2019 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

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