Iowa College Sticks to its Guns

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posted on February 18, 2016
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The board of trustees for a small, private college in Iowa has voted to continue its endorsement of a student shooting sports club, despite receiving pressure from some anti-gun alumni, including a former U.S. Senator and his wife. 

Simpson College, located in Indianola, Iowa, is holding firm with its decision made last year to hire a full-time coach for its shooting sports club, rejecting opposition from a coalition of alumni and prominent supporters who argued that firearms have should not be part of a liberal arts education. During its regular winter meeting Feb. 12, the Simpson Board of Trustees considered two petitions regarding the student shooting club, with the one supporting its continuation containing more than 2,200 signatures. 

A petition calling for a disbanding of the club contained 188 signatures. It was supported by a letter from former U.S. Senator from Iowa, John Culver and his wife, Mary Jane Checchi. The letter also called for college to return a $10,000 start-up grant the club received in 2012 from the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the primary trade association for the firearms and ammunition industry, which annually supports college and student shooting groups nationwide. 

The Culver and Checchi letter specifically criticized the NSSF as well as the National Rifle Association, referring to organizations as “strident, intolerant, highly political organizations” that promote shooting-sports clubs on college campuses, simply as part of an agenda to sell more guns. 

“For Simpson to ally itself with — and to allow itself to be used by — such groups reflects poorly on Simpson and is sadly inconsistent with the college’s mission and values,” the letter read. 

Wisely, the college board of trustees, and Simpson President Jay Simmons, disagreed with the assertions made by the former senator and his wife. 

“Trustees agreed that Simpson’s program is consistent with similar programs at the University of Iowa, Iowa State and many of Iowa’s community colleges,” Simmons said in an email statement released last week. “… As part of its decision to continue the five-year-old program, trustees directed the college’s administration to review the location for equipment storage; to review policies for accepting gifts in support of the program; and to review procedures for screening potential participants.” 

The Simpson College Shooting Club has grown to about 35 members since it began in 2011, and all of its shooting practice takes place off-campus, at the Indianola chapter of the Izaak Walton League, college spokeswoman Jill Johnson told The Des Moines Register last week. 

As part of the Board decision, the college will more forward with its plan to hire a full-time coach for the club, hoping to boost enrollment at the school of approximately 1,400 full-time students, and to attract those interested in participating in shotgun shooting competitions through the state-administered Iowa Scholastic Clay Target program.

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