Jul 31, 2007 04:30 AM
Gun enthusiasts are outraged over the University of Toronto's decision to close its 88-year-old shooting range because of the optics of using guns on campus.
The range, buried in the bowels of Hart House, will close Sept. 30, university officials say, despite an incident- and accident-free history.
"I think it's shameful on the part of the university," says Tony Bernardo, of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association. "The club has turned out gold medal winners and has an impeccable safety record. They're closing it to be politically correct. You'd think a university would think outside of the box."
Bernardo and the 400 members of the Rifle and Revolver Clubs at the university, believe U of T is closing the book on the "time-honoured" and civilized sport, because it looks bad amid the city's recent spate of gun violence.
While news of the closing came to light recently, the university made the decision months ago, during a regular five-year review of Hart House activities, says Rob Steiner, U of T assistant vice-president.
When it came to allotting the institution's scarce resources, the committee couldn't reconcile firing weapons on the university's grounds with the U of T's core values of "discovery and education," safety and maximizing the opportunity for dissent, he said.
"Shooting a gun on campus. Sit with that for a second. It leaves me cold," Steiner said. "This campus is a gun-free area, full stop. You can learn about safety on campus and shoot somewhere else."
The only reason members of the Rifle and Revolver Clubs have been allowed to use the range, he said, is because of an exemption to a policy cemented 10 years ago. It prohibits guns from being anywhere on campus except in police hands and, until September, at the range.
Kris Coward, 27, a Ph.D. candidate in mathematics and member of the Rifle and Revolver Clubs' executive, has written without success to the U of T's governing council, trying to open debate and possibly reverse the decision.
The clubs are good role models for students, members say, and can teach those unfamiliar with firearms how to behave safely and respectfully with guns. Taking that away will advance the gun stigma in society, Coward said.
The range, which is hidden and kept such a secret that most U of T students don't even know it exists, has myriad safety mechanisms in place. Guns, mostly .22 calibre, are kept under lock and key. Cameras are linked to campus police and locked doors prohibit entry to all but a highly trained few.
Having the range on campus will not promote gun violence, such as Virginia Tech or Dawson College type incidents, said Keith Luk, another member of the clubs' executive. That's why closing it won't do anything to deter such violence.
"Toronto has a problem with gang culture, but that's so removed from what we do," he said.
Members are trying to find convenient, affordable space at other shooting ranges. They're even considering becoming a club that shoots air rifles and air pistols.
Target shooting is a recognized sport, Luk said, and several members have won medals, including Avianna Chao, who won a gold at the Pan Am games and will compete in the Olympics next year.
The closing will make it difficult for aspiring athletes, who have little money and time, to practise elsewhere, said student Daniel Kim, a medal-winning member.
This really strikes me as the wrong way to go about this. Why isn't there a push to help kids avoid thug life and create and effectively promote alternatives to hanging out with nothing to do so that when recruiters do start talking to the kid, someone has already been there telling them what the real story is.