by Ted Tripp
Sr. Political Reporter
Massachusetts is one of only two states in the country where its 4-H clubs do not offer a firearms safety program (Rhode Island is the other).
For two years, Mandy Devene, a 4-H volunteer and firearms instructor, has been trying to change this, but it has not been easy.
In Massachusetts, the 4-H program is administered by an extension office of UMass Amherst. (An alert reader will immediately suspect the problem!) This is because UMass is a land-grant college and as such is chartered to oversee 4-H programs across the state.
Devene put together a youth shooting sports and firearms safety proposal which she submitted to UMass for approval. She initially got no response. After badgering the school for some time, she was eventually told that there wasn’t any money to fund such a program. So she approached the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, which agreed to fund the program with $180,000 over three years.
This put UMass Amherst in a quandary, as it obviously didn’t want to have anything to do with guns. But UMass being UMass, the school again turned down the new proposal with the funding attached. UMass spokesman Ed Blaguszewski explained: “Rather than focus limited resources on shooting sports only, the university is actively exploring development of a more broadly based program that includes instruction in hunting, fishing and conservation as part of our youth development activities.”
Of course, this was just an excuse as the proposed program covered many of these areas.
The Gun Owners’ Action League (GOAL) blasted UMass officials for stopping the launch of the 4-H program which would have taught kids about gun safety and promote youth shooting sports. Executive Director Jim Wallace said: “This move by UMass makes absolutely no sense. The only reason to avoid implementing this program is because UMass has a social bias against gun-owning families and their children. Is that a justifiable reason to deprive kids of a great program – GOAL doesn’t think so! We have a fully funded program for youth ready to go. It will teach them responsibility, a very popular outdoor recreational sport, a competitive sport for which they can earn a college scholarship, and be able to socialize and meet youth from around the Commonwealth.”
Mandy Deveno also expressed her disappointment: “It’s disturbing to think that our Massachusetts state college system would not support a highly successful program run by 48 other state colleges across our nation. It’s clear that UMass doesn’t want to be associated with the positive use of firearms.”
Even the UMass 4-H Foundation backs Deveno’s proposed program, which would have supported 1000 youth at more than 50 outdoor locations across the state. Nationally, 450,000 children from 8 to 18 participate in the program, where they learn to fire rifles and pistols as well as being taught about archery, hunting, and wildlife.
As we go to press, GOAL has just announced that it has entered into a joint venture with the Mass. Division of Fisheries and Wildlife to move the youth shooting sports and gun safety program forward. Jim Wallace explains: “It is apparent that the social bias from UMass against gun owners and their families will not subside and is clouding their judgment … instead we are moving forward…”
GOAL also notes that it is continuing to work with the Legislature to resolve the UMass recalcitrance, as well as discussing other possibilities with state officials for youth development.
GOAL adds that if you would like to contact UMass officials responsible for rejection of the 4-H gun safety program, here is the information:
Dean of The College of Natural Sciences UMass Amherst
Director, Center of Agriculture, Food and the Environment; Director, Massachusetts Agricultural Experiment Stations; Director, UMass Extension; Assistant Vice Chancellor