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APS students push for decision on NRA

Members of the La Cueva High School Marine JROTC rifle team practice at the school's indoor range. The team is made up of three boys and five girls. La Cueva does not accept NRA money. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Members of the La Cueva High School Marine JROTC rifle team practice at the school’s indoor range. The team is made up of three boys and five girls. La Cueva does not accept NRA money. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

It’s been 332 days since Albuquerque Public Schools deferred a decision on whether to accept funding from the National Rifle Association.

Policies have remained the same since.

But some students say they are still pushing for change and are planning their second protest in the coming months.

At a contentious meeting last June, APS Board of Education members debated a resolution that would have banned accepting NRA Foundation funding “until the NRA takes a national leadership role in supporting actions that might reduce gun violence in our communities and schools.”

But after fiery testimony on both sides, the discussion was tabled.

In a debate that has spread across the country, supporters argue that the NRA is a protector of Second Amendment rights and helps teach gun safety through programs such as the Eddie Eagle GunSafe program, while opponents argue that the NRA is influenced by donations from gun manufacturing companies and is a roadblock to gun safety efforts.

APS Board of Education President David Peercy confirmed to the Journal that APS policies remain unchanged since that June meeting. School programs, such as the district’s 13 Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, or JROTC, classes can still apply for NRA Foundation funding.

Last year, district officials said APS schools had received $106,000 in NRA Foundation grants since 2012. This school year, Manzano High School was the only school that applied for NRA Foundation funding, according to Ralph Ingles, APS director of JROTC instruction and middle school leadership program. It is seeking $1,100 for air rifles, pellets and targets among other program equipment, Ingles added.

Peercy said there are no plans for the district to readdress NRA funding.

“It’s kind of a non-issue to us at this point,” he said.

According to minutes from the June 6 meeting, the plan at that time was to postpone the vote to allow time to meet with students and community members and rework the resolution as needed. But Peercy said no further community outreach was done by the board after the meeting.

Individual board members could have talked to students and parents, Peercy said, but that didn’t happen in a formal board capacity.

“As far as we are concerned, it’s copacetic,” he said.

He added that board members and staff haven’t requested to put it back on the agenda. “If it’s tabled, there must not be sufficient interest to bring it back,” he said.

Student protest

Citlali Alexandria Tierney, an 18-year-old senior at La Cueva High School, says she and the advocacy group Fight For Our Lives are still pushing for APS to stop accepting funding from the NRA. (Shelby Perea/Albuquerque Journal)

Citlali Alexandria Tierney, an 18-year-old senior at La Cueva High School, says she and the advocacy group Fight For Our Lives are still pushing for APS to stop accepting funding from the NRA. (Shelby Perea/Albuquerque Journal)

But there’s still interest among some students, says Citlali Tierney, an 18-year-old senior at La Cueva High School.

“I absolutely still think it’s an issue,” she said.

She said she is frustrated but not surprised by APS’ inaction since the June meeting.

“We’re right back where we were in the first place,” she said. “Nothing is done and there was no resolution and they have done nothing to show us they prioritize students’ lives over big gun money.”

As one of the leaders of Fight for Our Lives, a local student-led group aiming to ramp up gun control and behavioral health services in the state, the teen said she and the organization – which is made up of about 50 members across the state – is still against the district taking the money.

She also said the board did not meet with Fight for Our Lives following the June meeting.

Tierney said APS should consider the ideologies and influence of organizations it accepts money from.

APS signed a resolution in March 2018 that had a host of stances on safety and gun violence that were contradictory to NRA stances.

For instance, the resolution includes “assault weapons have no place in society and other types of guns are too easily obtained” and “Albuquerque Public Schools District calls on the Congress of the United States to require and strengthen universal background checks to possess any type of firearm.”

The NRA opposes expanding background checks and asserts ownership of assault weapons is protected under the Second Amendment, according to positions by the NRA Institute of Legislative Action.

Tierney said Fight for Our Lives is working on another protest this summer to further resist the NRA funding. The organization originally staged a protest outside of APS headquarters last summer for the same purpose. “The only reason they put it on the agenda at all was to get us to shut up that summer,” she said.

But she said the students haven’t forgotten, and that’s why they are circling back to the issue.

No conflict

Ingles said he does not see any conflict with accepting the money.

“Based on how we conduct our team sports and activities – anything from drill to color guard to cyber STEM – there’s very little funding at the school level for the Junior ROTC,” he said.

Ingles said, while the program does teach marksmanship, it also teaches leadership and community service and the NRA Foundation money goes to support the program as a whole. He added JROTC, similar to sports, teaches teamwork and affords students scholarship opportunities.

After a February 2018 school shooting massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., gun control and firearm reform were subject to intense national debate.

Students who survived the shooting became the faces of a nationwide movement that called for changes to end firearm violence. And in Albuquerque, student activists – including Tierney – launched their own movement to rally for school safety reform.

And they’ve made waves.

Local students from Fight for Our Lives spearheaded a rally that drew thousands to Old Town, demanding school safety reform – part of the national March for Our Lives rallies.

And they were active during this legislative session, rallying behind gun control legislation and behavioral health services.

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