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Taking a powder

Some Indiana educators are arguing that there are times when it is appropriate for guns to be in schools.

Believing guns have received too much recent negative publicity, Steve Wheatley, an environmental studies teacher at Franklin Community High School who is a member of the National Rifle Association, invited the local news media to visit a seven-day course he offers on assembling muzzleloaders.

The firearm was originally manufactured during the 19th century and takes several minutes to load and fire.

But Mr. Wheatley's intention of attracting positive publicity went awry, and journalists instead questioned whether a school should be teaching students how to assemble, load, and fire guns, according to Walter A. Vanderbush, the principal of the 1,500-student school in Franklin, Ind.

Reporters quoted Kevin C. McDowell, the general counsel for the Indiana Department of Education, as saying that the course violated a state law prohibiting firearms on school property.

Last week, Mr. McDowell said he still believed that to be so, but added that the violation does not warrant local prosecutors' shutting down the class.

Both Mr. Vanderbush and James M. Halik, the superintendent of the Franklin district, argued that the course is legal because the teacher keeps the parts of the guns that would make them "fireable" and lets the students put them in the guns only at a local firing range off campus.

The administrators said the class teaches the students, some of whom are avid deer hunters, about gun safety and also about U.S. history.

Mr. Halik noted that Camp Atterbury, an old U.S. Army camp in the community, offers a muzzleloading hunting season in its wilderness area.

"Now we know the students who go there know how to operate a gun [properly]," he said.

—Mary Ann Zehr

Vol. 19, Issue 21, Page 3

Published in Print: February 2, 2000, as Take Note

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