A school in Woodstock, Georgia, is facing fierce criticism online after photos emerged of young students handling guns at a firing range during a school-sanctioned trip.
Holdheide Academy bills itself as an accredited preschool and Montessori academy for children from kindergarten to second grade. On Wednesday, several of the school’s students went on a field trip to Hi-Caliber Firearms, a gun store and range in Woodstock, roughly 30 miles northwest of Atlanta. Images of the children in the store, some where the students are holding guns, surfaced on Facebook shortly after.
Almost immediately, debate erupted on social media, with some saying the school’s decision was “unacceptable, irresponsible and dangerous.” On Facebook, the school has received 43 1-star reviews out of 68 total, many coming in the past two days.
However, the school’s owner, Tammy Dorsten, has defended the decision, telling the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the trip was “a wonderful educational experience.”
Dorsten told WSB-TV that she got the idea for the trip because her first- and second-graders were studying sharpshooter Annie Oakley and frontiersman Daniel Boone in school.
According to Dorsten, several students said they thought sharpshooting sounded easy, per the Journal-Constitution.
“I wanted to show them it wasn’t easy,” she told the newspaper.
Per WSB-TV, Dorsten said Hi-Caliber had a 1894 rifle and vintage revolver similar to what Oakley would have used, so she decided to take students to see them. Parents were given permission slips to sign before the trip, Dorsten said.
“(They) were very supportive and knew what was going on,” she told the Journal-Constitution.
While Holdheide takes care of infants as young as six weeks old, only six- and seven-year-olds went on the trip, Dorsten said.
Dorsten also said the children went through a gun safety course before they handled the firearms, which she says were not loaded.
The Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning issued a statement about the trip Friday, saying it is “currently investigating to determine what children were involved in the field trip and whether it is within DECAL's jurisdiction to take appropriate actions.”
The National Rifle Association has backed legislation teaching gun control to first-graders in Missouri in the past, per CNN, and a writer for NRA Family recommends that children as young as six who are interested in guns should be allowed to shoot them in controlled environments, though the writer also says children should be taught to keep their fingers off the trigger until ready to shoot. In the images from Woodstock, the children appear to have their fingers on the trigger, though it is not clear if the guns they handled were capable of firing.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has argued in a policy statement that the “most effective measure to prevent suicide, homicide and unintentional firearm-related injuries to children and adolescents is the absence of guns from homes and communities.”