Zoe Callaway enjoys going to the rifle range to blow off steam, help fellow University of Delaware students learn gun safety and hone her sharp-shooting skills, but lately she and some classmates feel they are being targeted over their enthusiasm for firearms.
Callaway, who grew up around guns and is president of the school’s Students for the Second Amendment club, first sensed the campus-wide opposition to her hobby when the group applied for an extracurricular grant for ammunition. They were denied, then appealed and eventually received a $500 stipend. The victory was short-lived, however, as outraged students successfully pressed school officials to explicitly prohibit ammo funding going forward.
“The majority of our student body does not support our group,” Callaway told FoxNews.com, adding that classmates perceive members of the club as “crazy gun kids” who intend to “shoot up the school.”
The purpose of campus clubs like Callaway’s is to promote safe and responsible handling of firearms. Once a staple of collegiate athletic departments and intramural scenes, pistol and riflery clubs and competitions have come under fire in recent years.
Mass shootings and increasing politicization of the gun debate have left the activity marginalized, especially at eastern schools “staffed by liberals who have never touched a firearm in their lives,” according to the Young America’s Foundation spokeswoman Emily Jashinsky.
“[As gun issues] become a hotter topic and the more conservatives voice their opinions, the more liberals will try to stifle them,” Jashinsky said, adding that universities are “the most insulated bubbles of leftist thought.”
Members of student shooting teams may turn to off-campus sources of financial help when university officials withdraw ammunition funding. The NRA, which provides funding to nearly 70 universities, saw an 8 percent increase in requests between 2015 and 2016 for programs including shooting sports teams and clubs.
“Funding from the [NRA] Foundation often fills the gap when school budgets are not able to do so,” NRA spokesman Jason Brown told FoxNews.com in an email.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation has provided about $1 million in funding to shooting teams to alleviate travel and ammunition costs. That also has prompted criticism from students and faculty, who say groups that lobby against gun control should have no influence on campus.
Organization officials insist its student grant program is entirely separate and non-political.
“This has nothing whatsoever to do with concerns about campus carry or unfortunate, tragic incidences that have occurred on university campuses,” said NSSF spokesman Michael Bazinet.
Bazinet insists the sole intention of the NSSF, which provides $100,000 per year to universities, is to increase student participation in recreational shooting sports, which are present at the Olympic Games and the “polar opposite” of criminal activity.
A former shotgun club president, whose team was awarded $7,500 from the NSSF in 2009 and continues to receive financial support from the NRA, declined to be named out of fear his university would punish the group.
“Our school is not fond of our team because of guns,” he told FoxNews.com of his state university, which prohibits the group from spending school funds on ammo and refuses to provide the same scholarships allotted to other programs.
“It’s sad that we must worry about repercussions because of talking about our Second Amendment rights,” he said, adding pro-gun organizations have never imposed political opinions on the team and provide funds solely for sport, since a single event costs the team about $120.
The NSSF also provided $5,000 to Oklahoma State University’s shotgun club in 2012. Without outside funding, the team’s practices and competitions would be prohibitively expensive, club president Cody Sutton said.
“The health of these shooting programs is extremely important for the development of responsible firearms enthusiasts and competitors,” he told FoxNews.com.
Ernest Eckenrode, captain of the trap and skeet team at Washington College, in Chestertown, Md., agreed, stating his group uses grant money to educate new shooters about gun safety.
“Every gun club has safety as a top priority,” he told FoxNews.com, insisting the NSSF has never attempted to politicize the team. “The fund money in no way funds harmful actions with weapons.”
A ban on financial aid from organizations like the NSSF is a typical strategy utilized by universities to obstruct conservative clubs from obtaining funds, according to Jashinsky.
Yale University’s Pistol Club and Skeet and Trap Club each received $5,000 from the organization in 2012. The pistol club credited the NSSF in a report, saying its “generous grant money was vital in [our] ability to participate” for the first time in the National NRA Intercollegiate Pistol Championships.
But Yale now prohibits lobbying organizations like the NSSF from providing funding to student groups.
“I can assure you that club funding from shooting or firearm-related organizations is not permitted,” Yale spokesman Thomas Conroy told FoxNews.com in an email.
Conroy reasoned that accepting funds from such organizations requires a vetting process and that internal funding to the team is sufficient.
Politicizing university shooting clubs is a “great disservice to society as a whole,” according to Bazinet, who stressed students learn important life skills when participating in an organized team in a safe environment.
“It’s not as if they take their firearm to class with them,” he said.