SMITHFIELD, N.C. – A North Carolina high school recently unveiled its new indoor shooting range, a facility made possible by JROTC students and donations from the community.
Several students in the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps at Smithfield Selma High School recently helped their instructor, Commander David Michael Wegman, to resurrect the school’s marksmanship program and construct a shooting range on campus, WTVD reports.
Wegman, who retired from the U.S. Navy, inherited the school’s longstanding marksmanship program when he came to the school a year and a half ago, including a stockpile of air rifles, but said it was difficult to coordinate shooting sessions.
“It wasn’t really working because logistically it was simply too difficult to lad students on an activity bus and get them to the National Guard Armory here in Smithfield and then offload them and the weapons, and then get in there and set up and do all the shooting,” he said. “So I just said, ‘Hey, why don’t we just figure out a way to do that here on campus?’”
Wegman and his students identified an old school greenhouse that would work, and acquired the proper permissions to convert it into a shooting range. The group secured grants from the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and the National Shooting Sports Foundation to cover most of the roughly $10,400 cost to build the facility, and students contributed about 75 percent of the labor, according to the news site.
The shooting program is run through the Civilian Marksmanship Program and uses air rifles to teach students about marksmanship, gun safety, responsibility, and other skills.
“What we use are air rifles, and our air rifles use a little bit of compressed air to push a very small piece of lead – that pellet is 8 grains in size, it’s about 4 1/2 mm – and they use that little bit of compressed air to push that pellet 33 feet, 10 meters, down to a target,” Wegman said. “And the center of that target is about a half a millimeter in size, so it takes an awful lot of skill and concentration.”
Currently, only four JROTC students have completed the rigorous training and testing necessary to use the range, but Wegman told WRAL he hopes to have all seniors in the program on the range soon.
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“There’s a marksmanship safety test they have to take, and they have to get a 100 on it,” he said. “In addition to that, they have to sign a safety pledge, get permission from home and then finally demonstrate on the range that the know how to handle one of these air rifles safely.”
Senior Makayla Holder told ABC 11 she’s enjoying her time on the range, a place where all students have the same opportunity for success.
What we are as students, we learned to be the great equalizer,” she said. “Basically, it explains anyone that can be big, small, yellow, black, purple, blue – it does not discriminate.
“You can be a person who’s athletic, a person who is not athletic, a person who knows a lot about air rifles or guns, period – it doesn’t really matter. But once you get the feeling of holding a gun, and learning how to basically shoot one, it gives you a great experience,” she said. “It builds your confidence skills up. It makes you learn like ‘Hey, I want to do this more.'”
And instilling confidence and a sense of responsibility in students is what the program is all about, Wegman said.
“We talk about, a lot in this country, about teaching students responsibility. This goes beyond theory, to actually give them an opportunity to participate in something that is quite responsible,” he said.
“This is a citizenship development program and so what we teach every single cadet, what we mentor, lead, guide, and direct every single cadet in our program, are those values,” Wegman said. “Values, things that we all uphold – the value of human life, the value of safety and security, something we call ‘having each others backs,’ so because of that we believe that the students will leave this program more responsible, more focused on things that matter.
“And they’ll go out there and they won’t have a tendency to do anything with a firearm that they wouldn’t do with an air rifle.”