MILWAUKEE (AP) - Gun advocates and opponents nationwide may be arguing over school security and whether teachers should be armed on campus. But in Wisconsin - where children as young as 10 years old are encouraged to grab a gun and shoot a deer - one community is embracing its hunting heritage by gearing up to host a gun show in a high school gym.
All things gun related have drawn increased scrutiny since the shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 21 children and six educators dead. Nonetheless plans for the show at Cornell High School this weekend have barely ruffled feathers in the city of about 1,400 residents in northwestern Wisconsin.
The state has a long tradition of hunting deer, black bear, wild turkeys and most recently wolves. More than 633,000 hunting licenses were sold for a nine-day deer hunt in late November.
"During school hours we have a zero-tolerance policy for guns and weapons of any kind, but this will be on the weekend," Mayor Judy Talbot said. "I've not been approached by anyone saying anything negative about the gun show."
Federal and state law bars guns in school settings under most circumstances, but there are provisions in federal law that allow guns with the permission of school administrators, said Steve Gibbs, the district attorney in Cornell's Chippewa County. The National Rifle Association is pushing for armed security guards to be installed in schools.
Paul Schley, Cornell School District superintendent, said he received emails from five Wisconsin residents living outside Cornell who expressed disappointment that the show was taking place on school grounds. He responded that the school gym is the largest venue in town and is often used for community events, including an earlier gun show that ran without a hitch.
"We don't look at what your event is, we just look at the availability of the facility," he said. "We don't discriminate on who uses our facilities."
Furthermore, the gun show could boost the city's economy. Organizer Marv Kraus expects 1,000 to 1,500 people to travel to Cornell to attend the show.
At least one local resident was upset about the show, suggesting its timing could put children at risk.
David Hugh, 33, said he has nothing against guns and is himself a hunter and military veteran but that he can't understand why anyone would bring guns into a school on Sunday when students will return to the same building the following day.
"They could have done it during the summer. I'm not saying don't have it, I'm just saying pick a different time, maybe when school isn't in session," said Hugh, who has a niece at the high school and a 5-year-old stepdaughter who attends elementary school in the district. "They don't allow tobacco on campus, they won't allow alcohol on campus, and yet they'll allow guns on campus?"
Hugh said he didn't complain to any officials because he didn't think it would make a difference.
Gibbs, the prosecutor, said dealers would account for all inventory before they left, noting that none of them would want to leave behind a firearm they could sell for thousands of dollars.
"It's like having a diamond show - you're not going to misplace a diamond," he said.
Sixty miles to the southwest, pastor Doug Stolhand prepared to host the Menomonie Sportsmen's Expo and Gun Show at Menomonie Alliance Church later this month. Stolhand said one of his goals as pastor was to build bridges in the community and introduce more people to God. What better way to connect than over a pastime that drives the community?
"There really hasn't been any pushback. We're in a place where hunting is a part of life - men hunt here, women hunt here, kids hunt here," he said. "We have people for whom deer season provides their meat for the year."
Gary Thompson, organizer of the show in Menomonie, said he braced himself for complaints but received none.
"I really thought that somebody, some anti-gun person, would say something. I don't know, you've just got crazy people on any side of anything," he said. "But we have a large hunting community here. They're not hard-core fanatics, they're not huge activists. They're just sportsmen, they're hunters."