By Bob Confer
Having been a Boy Scout, camp counselor, and volunteer for the past 35 years, I can attest that the shooting sports program is one of the most popular – and most important – aspects of summer camp. Boys have always been thrilled to use the rifle and shotgun ranges at upstate camps like Dittmer and Scouthaven.
Being able to learn about and use firearms is not only a highlight of their summer, something they look forward to all year, but it’s also a highlight of their lives as it provides respectful exposure to an interest they will carry with them forever. Because of the seed planted at our shooting ranges the boys often later pursue involvement in: shooting sports clubs, giving them a competitive outlet at their schools or conservation clubs; hunting, which has helped them put food on the table for their families; and public service, which has seen them protect our citizens through law enforcement or the Armed Forces.
Knowing that impact, the shooting sports are not something taken lightly by scout councils. They’ve made sure their facilities are well-equipped and well-fortified. For example, through the years, the Iroquois Trail Council, which serves the youth of eastern Niagara and the GLOW counties, invested in the best rifles and shotguns and secured donations of the same from organizations like the Safari Club. The scouts at their camps used .22-calibre rifles, black powder guns, and shotguns of various gauges. As recently as 2018, local scouters oversaw the construction of a new shotgun range at Camp Dittmer, the outcome of an idea and sizable gift from an Orleans County benefactor who knows the magic of camp.
But, unless something changes, there’s a fire sale coming soon: Scout councils will likely have to sell off all of their guns, ammunition, and shooting equipment. That’s because scouts at camps in New York State can no longer earn the rifle merit badge or shoot sporting clays due to the legislation created and passed this past June by the legislature and Governor Hochul in response to the mass shooting in Buffalo and the US Supreme Court’s decision with NYSPRA vs. Bruen.
You’ve likely read plenty about that law and the state banning possession of a handgun, rifle, or shotgun at what the state now considers “sensitive areas” which seemingly covers all public places. Among those places, and clearly called out in the language of the law, are summer camps.
This law, which went into effect last week, will destroy a popular part of summer camp for New York scouts…and it could destroy those camps as well. Other states don’t have such limitations; to be able to continue their participation in the shooting sports (again, a key selling point of the encampment experience), many troops will attend summer camps in those locations. Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia are close drives, especially if a troop is already accustomed to a longish drive to Massawepie the Adirondacks. New York’s scout camps, which are already operating on shoestring budgets and stressful hopes of being in the black every year, will lose precious clientele and money.
The scouts who do stay within the Empire State’s borders for their summer trip will lose out on the opportunity to learn a skill, a pursuit, safely and respectfully, which potentially feeds the fear and disrespect that others try to pin on guns. Because of that, those boys, lacking the exposure, might not grow up to be the hunters, public safety officers, and military personnel of tomorrow (pursuits, careers, and callings that, by the way, are already looking at long-term recruitment issues).
If early and appropriate exposure to firearms afforded by scouting was something meaningful to you or your son, I encourage you to write your senator or assemblyperson. As it stands now, unless Governor Hochul’s office works with the legislature to revise the language or add an amendment this past summer might have been the last summer that New York’s camps can offer shooting sports, thus denying countless young men a critical part of summer camp – and life.