"This class is desensitizing kids to weapons, teaching them how to shoot, and making them more effective marksmen," says Emiliano Huet-Vaughn, a junior at Shawnee Mission North. "Students are getting a positive look at weapons in the schools. They're seeing that weapons are allowed in the school, and I think that weapons should be portrayed in a totally negative light, especially in a school setting. It's inappropriate to teach kids how to shoot, and I think that it's irresponsible and hypocritical of our schools to engage in these programs."
At a February school board meeting, Huet-Vaughn and classmate Benjamin Seferovich asked for changes in the curriculum of the junior ROTC classes, including the removal of the rifle team, which practices at a shooting range near the school once a week after school, and the drill team, for which students store deactivated rifles in their lockers. The drill team, which meets before school at 6 a.m., has won scores of trophies in competitions, which might explain what Huet-Vaughn describes as a staunch defense of the status quo from the Shawnee Mission School Board.
After failing to receive direct answers to their questions, Huet-Vaughn and Seferovich decided future appeals to the board would be a waste of energy. In comparison, the response from the public and the press was instant and intense. An editorial in The Kansas City Star criticized "sloppy thinking by ROTC opponents," claiming "the reason so many self-described peace activists enjoy so little credibility is that they fail to make the critical distinctions that are blindly obvious to everyone else." The writer of a letter to the editor of Shawnee Mission North's school newspaper suggested that teaching students more about the guns will make them less likely to kill someone, because knowledge creates safety.
"That doesn't sound like sound reasoning to me," Huet-Vaughn says. "Teaching someone respect for a weapon does not create respect for human life. That's not to say that everyone in the ROTC class is going to be a killer, but I think that the possibility exists. Where are these students getting their education from? People from the military. What does the military constantly use weapons for? Whether it's right or wrong, they constantly use them to kill. If people don't want weapons in their schools, then I don't see how they can make an exception for this."
In a column titled "A Higher Standard or a Double One?" Kansas City Star writer Mike Hendricks focused on the contradiction inherent between the existence of the ROTC's weapon-wielding programs and the school district's zero-tolerance weapon policies, which resulted in the expulsion of a Shawnee Mission East student who left a butterfly knife in his car, which was parked in the school lot. Though they appreciated the support, some of the students working with Huet-Vaughn to circulate a petition proposing changes in the ROTC curriculum felt that the article's focus was misplaced.
"It was all about the zero-tolerance policy, and it isn't really one of our main objectives to eliminate that policy," says one of these students, who preferred to remain anonymous. "Our point is that we don't want anyone bringing weapons into school -- not that if ROTC can have rifles, everyone else should be able to bring in weapons as well."