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Re-enactor decries school weapons ban

January 19, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Some people are unhappy with the Washington County Board of Education's decision to ban all guns, even those used in educational talks, from schools.

State law forbids people from taking deadly weapons onto school property, but some, such as those carried by police, are exceptions.

Historical re-enactors are also permitted to display firearms, if they are invited by a school principal.

Last summer, School Board members told Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr. that historic guns should not be allowed in the schools. Bartlett sent letters to school principals notifying them of the decision.

"It's a shame Washington County has to be that way. They're losing," said Dennis Easterday, a Smithsburg resident and historical re-enactor, in a telephone interview Tuesday.

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Easterday said he often performs, armed, in other regional counties. He believes re-enactment is an exciting way to teach history. "I bring it to life in a different way," he said.

One of his guns, its maple stock blood-stained, was taken from the body of a Confederate soldier on the Antietam Battlefield, he said. But Easterday said he doesn't focus on firearms.

"I have a lot to talk about besides guns," including the music and medicine of the Civil War, he said. He plans to keep performing in local schools without the weapons, but said he doesn't think historic weapons should worry anyone.

"More dangerous are the guns at home," he said. Schools "ought to have someone teaching gun safety."

On Tuesday, School Board President Edwin Hayes asked the new seven-member board to discuss the issue. He said the full board never voted on the ban before, but that it is an administrative policy. "We've had a couple challenges on that," he said.

"I don't see why weapons need to be brought into schools whether historical or otherwise," said board member Doris J. Nipps. "They are still handled by students who don't know anything about them. I just think it sends a real bad signal to kids," she said.

Other board members agreed, but some said they were more concerned with the way guns are used. Mary Wilfong said she doesn't like guns, but historical re-enactment "does seem educational to me ... What is done and how it's done is the thing."

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