A rifle range that has served more than three decades of high school sharpshooters in Arlington was closed yesterday by a narrow School Board vote.
Board members on both sides of the 3 to 2 vote said their views were influenced by widespread revulsion against firearms since the April massacre at a Colorado high school. "I think it is really inappropriate to have a rifle range at a school," said newly elected board Chair Libby Garvey, explaining her vote against the basement facility at Yorktown High School.
Coaches of the 50 students who have been using the range said they appreciated School Superintendent Robert G. Smith's efforts to rent time at a range in Annandale but thought the time and distance involved would discourage participation.
"We don't know how viable it is going to be without the space at the school," said Wanlace Yates, assistant coach of the Yorktown rifle team.
The key vote against the Yorktown range came from Frank K. Wilson, the board's longest-serving member, who had said in May, "I'm not going to let some things that happened at Littleton [Colo.] affect what's going on in Arlington."
Wilson said yesterday that he had concluded the closing of the range was inevitable and that moving practices to the Annandale site was a good compromise.
Board member Darlene M. Mickey joined Wilson and Garvey in agreeing to turn the range into storage space so that two classrooms could be added to another part of the school.
The votes to keep the range came from board members Mary H. Hynes and Elaine S. Furlow, both of whom said they disliked guns but thought the rifle team deserved a convenient place to practice. "I want to continue this sport for these young people who are so connected to it," Hynes said.
Furlow said she thought it was confusing for opponents of the range to argue that they just wanted to free more classroom space.
"This is not an issue of space," she said. "It is a deeper philosophical one . . . which needs further discussion at another time."
Efforts to close the range began before the April 20 massacre at Columbine High School but became much more visible after that tragedy. Smith proposed the renovation as a relatively inexpensive way of getting more use out of the Yorktown building, but he also took a position in the firearms debate.
"I continue to believe that maintaining such a range in a public high school represents an inappropriate practice," he said yesterday in a statement to the board renewing his initial recommendation.
During the school year just completed, the range was used by 30 rifle team members from Yorktown High School, five rifle team members from Washington-Lee High School and about 15 middle school students in a rifle club sponsored by the Optimists Club. The students use single-shot .22-caliber long rifles.
Yates said that the coaches taught safe use of firearms and that the team gave some students who lacked other interests a chance to excel in a sport. Rifles and bullets were locked away. School officials said there has never been an accident at the facility.
Furlow said rifle team parents told her that their children might have to drop the sport if practices are held in Annandale. "It goes from being just an hour after school to a four-hour thing, with the transportation back and forth," she said.
CAPTION: Arlington School Board member Frank K. Wilson said moving the rifle team's practices to the Annandale site was a good compromise.