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The ins-and-outs of military-sponsored classes and the protest they inspire are so complex that I had to trim my article down to enrollment practices, and the debate over whether they violate a California law that bans schools from requiring students to take Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps and other military-related classes.

A big aspect I didn’t explore was the philosophical debate over whether teaching JROTC students to shoot air rifles is appropriate. Not all JROTC units offer the training, which can be done either during class or after school. Program manager Jan Janus said rifle training is voluntary, doesn’t factor into a JROTC grade, and touts the program’s perfect safety record of 88 years.

“It’s actually about the most boring sport in the world,” Janus said.

Protesters argue that the rifle ranges don’t square with the schools’ zero tolerance policy on weapons, and have pressed for the ranges to be eliminated. In light of the zero tolerance policy, “it is hypocrisy to have weapons on campus under the guise of education,” said Gloria Daviston, a member of Veterans for Peace. She called the program “the glamorization of guns.”

“There’s already enough violence in schools,” said Nancy Cruz, a senior at Mission Bay High School.

But Stephanie Papas, who manages violence prevention programs for the California Department of Education, said the federal Gun-Free Schools Act allows weapons on campus if they are being used for school-approved activities with safeguards to protect kids. Under the current law, JROTC marksmanship training is permitted under those circumstances, she said

Marco Cedano, a senior in the JROTC program at San Diego High School, said eliminating the weapons program “would take out a big chunk of what ROTC is all about.” Learning to shoot has taught him to block distractions in class, he said.

“It teaches you to block sounds,” Cedano said. “All you think about is yourself, the rifle, and the target.”

Another JROTC student, sophomore Mike Hom of Mission Bay High School, told the school board that air rifles are a sport, and shouldn’t be removed. (I quoted his mother, Pat Hom, in my article.) Protest leaders are unconvinced, and remain categorically opposed to the air rifles.

“What’s the enduring purpose to learning to shoot weapons?” asked Mshinda Nyofu, one of the leaders of the Education Not Arms Coalition mobilizing against the ranges.

EMILY ALPERT

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