December 22, 2011
CHS rifles going back in service
McGraw gunsmith salvages guns from district’s former rifle team
CORTLANDVILLE — For years, the Cortland city school district kept six .22-caliber target rifles in a vault, a remainder of its now-defunct marksmanship team.
Superintendent of Schools Larry Spring said about six years ago the district was looking to destroy the rifles but decided to hand them over to the city police department instead.
Now, a Cortland County resident with a passion for rifle shooting and education hopes those rifles can be used again.
Marathon resident, gunsmith and shooting instructor George Jennings has been working with the city police to help the McGraw Sportsmen’s club take ownership of the six rifles over the last few years. He hopes to teach a class through the sportsmen’s club to educate the next generation of hunters and shooters about how to properly handle and shoot a rifle.
Jennings teaches classes in safety in Cortland County and elsewhere. He has been a part of New York state’s hunter education program and teaches classes for the National Rifle Association for handgun safety through the McGraw Sportsmen’s Club on Ridge Road in Cortlandville.
Jennings remembers when all the local school districts in Cortland County had their own marksmanship teams as late as the 1970s.
“Shooting was just another extracurricular you could do as a student,” Jennings said.
Jennings, who repairs rifles, handguns and firearms at Parks Road Guns in Homer, said safety and liability concerns prompted local school districts to end their shooting teams in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
He said there is still a large amount of interest among local youth in rifle hunting, which is now allowed for big game in Cortland County.
“The goal would primarily be to educate the kids on the proper use of firearms and develop their shooting skills,” Jennings said.
Deputy Police Chief Paul Sandy said he is excited about the transfer, seeing it as a good chance to educate the next crop of rifle hunters. The police have had the rifles since 2005 and Sandy said he is glad to see them put to good use.
He said he hopes the transfer can happen quickly. The city Common Council approved the transfer of the rifles with a 6-0 vote in July.
The city police tested the rifles earlier this year and determined that they were safe to use.
“Education prevents accidents,” Sandy said. “That’s what this is about.”
In New York state, children must be 12 years old before they can obtain a license to hunt wildlife. The state requires adults supervision for young hunters until they are 16.
Sandy said a lot of schools in the area had marksmanship teams but most faded in the late 70s and early 80s as concerns about safety emerged.
Spring did not know when the Cortland Marksmanship Team folded.
Spring said he was happy to hear the rifles would again be used for education.
Jennings said he hopes to start the program sometime next year. He anticipates it could be a once-a-week program through the McGraw Sportsmen’s Club.
In the absence of school marksmanship teams, shooting programs through the Boy Scouts of America and the American Legion have emerged. Jennings said he believes there is enough interest in the county for the sportsmen’s club program.
“It’s an important skill to learn,” he said.
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