Guns and booze don’t mix. This is one of SSERBA’s (Students for the Safe Exercise of our Right to Bear Arms) cardinal rules. Still, the occasional drunk or hungover Macalester student shows up for a trip to the shooting range. Though these students are turned away, SSERBA’s officers see such incidents as proof that the club is necessary.
“SSERBA is a safe place where people can learn about firearms,” SSERBA officer Cameron McCray ’16 said. “One of the main lessons students learn is that you don’t have to fear [firearms]. Respect them, but not fear them.”
Promoting respect and understanding for guns is one of SSERBA’s central tenets. Even though gun usage is one of the most polarizing issues in the U.S., the club’s mission is strictly apolitical. Instead, it teaches Mac students the basics of gun safety and provides them with the opportunity to try shooting in a supervised and low-cost environment.
“When [people] come to a meeting, they’re not going to get that this is an offshoot of the NRA or this is an offshoot of the Republican party,” said co-founder and Acting President Andrew Ojeda ’14.
“Our members show up, we teach them, and that’s it. They are free to take away from us what they will,” said SSERBA officer Kaelyn Lemon ’16. “We aren’t even trying to get people to support guns; we just stress safety.”
Though SSERBA attempts to avoid political statements, current events frequently complicate its existence. Recent proposals for stricter gun laws have caused ammunition prices to skyrocket, and the club’s already tight budget has become a lot tighter. At the org’s inception, SSERBA and MCSG agreed that school funds could not be spent on ammunition. Though the officers were reluctant to bill students, they began to charge a nominal fee of $5 per student to cover the ammunition costs. However, these fees no longer cover the costs, and some officers have begun paying out of pocket.
The club has also been forced to change its practices at the range. Initially, SSERBA officers taught first-time shooters with a .22 long rifle because ammo was relatively cheap (about $25 for a box of 500 rounds). However, .22 has become scarce in recent months as legislation threatens its legality.
“The kind of ammo we use has become more expensive due to fear-mongering,” McCray said. “There’s been a lot of hoarding.”
In response to the shortage, SSERBA has begun shooting 9 mm bullets, instead. But these come at a steeper price: about $20 for a box of only 50 rounds.
SSERBA also struggles with the campus bureaucracy, though officers say this is to be expected with any club. Still, the nature of the organization makes some goals more difficult than others. The club’s officers ideally want to install a gun safe on campus to minimize the difficulties of storing firearms off-campus, but they say it’s not likely to happen.
“It’s a pipe dream,” McCray said.
In spite of these obstacles, the officers remain passionate about the club and its mission.
“It sucks to be an officer at the range because it’s just so much work to get people [there],” Ojeda said. “But when you see people’s faces light up when they hit the target, it’s worth it.”
Most students involved with SSERBA participate on a one-time basis. Anywhere from 50 to 120 people sign up for each safety session, and the club takes 16 students on each range trip. Some come from urban environments far from any shooting range, others from states or countries with stricter gun control laws, and some just haven’t been able to afford steep range prices. According to Ojeda, about 80 percent of them have never handled a firearm before.
At the range, students exhibit a variety of reactions. Some have fun shooting at zombie targets and others rent and pose for photos with their own guns. (Last trip, students snapped shots with a “dirty-Harry-style” pistol). Others are hesitant or scared.
“I, for one, was afraid for some reason,” Ojeda said of his first trip. “[I’m] a big guy who plays football…So to be afraid is something for first-time shooters.”
SSERBA officers attempt to manage these expectations and maintain an environment of controlled fun.
“We try to make sure nothing bizarre or overly interesting happens on our trips,” McCray said. “When you’re handling firearms, boring is best.”
In the end, whether students develop a lifelong passion for firearms or decide to never touch one again is relatively immaterial to SSERBA officers.
“I think SSERBA leaders and members have a duty to clear up misinformation and help the Macalester community understand the truth,” co-founder Sam Brier ’13 said.
For some, this means gaining real-life experience applicable to political debates.
“Politicians really love to toss around large technical words that can easily be misinterpreted, but many SSERBA officers and members know what the terms really mean,” Lemon said. “I’ve learned a lot in that respect.”
For others, it means developing a pragmatic and informed approach to guns.
“If guns didn’t exist, this would be a better world,” said SSERBA officer Lexii Carrillo ’15. “However, that is not reality. So, we need to be prepared to deal with them safely. Whether or not you like guns or advocate for stricter gun control is irrelevant to knowing how to be safe around them.”