UMass nixes 4-H shooting program, drawing fire from gun owners group

  • FILE - In this Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2008 file photo, Delta Theta Sigma fraternity brothers hunt for deer together on Penn State University farm land in State College, Pa. The Delta Theta Sigma fraternity is geared toward students interested in agriculture careers, many of them avid hunters from growing up in small towns and rural areas. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) Carolyn Kaster

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

AMHERST — A gun owners group is up in arms over the University of Massachusetts’ decision not to approve a 4-H youth development program on shooting sports.

But UMass says rather than focus on shooting sports only, the university wants to develop a program that includes instruction in hunting, fishing and conservation as part of its youth development activities.

UMass Amherst Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment runs Massachusetts 4-H, which is part of a nationwide organization aimed to help young people learn life skills under trained volunteers.

The shooting sports program was initiated by firearms instructor Mandy Deveno of Bellingham. The national program is offered in every state except for Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Deveno started working on launching the 4-H program in Massachusetts after her 10-year-old son expressed an interest in learning shooting sports.

She said the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife agreed to pay $60,000 for three years to support a coordinator for the program as well as materials and training.

Deveno then researched 4-H shooting programs in other states. While each state conducts the program slightly differently, Deveno said she planned to follow the national 4-H shooting sports program procedures and abide by state firearm laws.

“It’s a good program,” Deveno said. “And we’re all about teaching safety first.”

While youngsters learn firearm safety, proper techniques and competitive shooting, Deveno said the program is more than just shooting sports. She said the youth learn skills and values such as citizenship, leadership, record keeping and public speaking.

“Not all shooting sports programs have that opportunity,” she said.

The Gun Owners Action League of Massachusetts (GOAL) planned to support the program by networking with shooting ranges and venues across the state. GOAL says the program would have supported over 1,000 young people at more than 50 outdoor locations in Massachusetts.

GOAL’s executive director, Jim Wallace, said he was very surprised that UMass did not approve the fully funded program.

“All it took them is a thumbs-up,” Wallace said about UMass.

In a statement, he said, “The only reason to avoid implementing this program is because UMass has a social bias against gun owning families and their children.”

Deveno and Wallace said they never heard why the program was never approved by UMass. But in a statement to the Gazette, UMass spokesman Ed Blaguszewski said the university had studied the shooting-sports proposal made by the Massachusetts 4-H Foundation and examined a variety of different 4-H shooting programs around the country.

“Rather than focus limited resources on shooting sports only, the university is actively exploring development of a more broadly based program,” he stated.

The hunting aspect of the program would include the basics of gun safety and the shooting sports, he added.

Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at cashworth@gazettenet.com.