Shooting league calls DFL bill an ‘attack on a school-approved activity they don’t like’

Sen. Jen McEwen, DFL-Duluth, says SF3792 is focused on keeping youth shooting athletes and the environment safe from lead-based ammunition.

One of Minnesota’s fastest growing high school sports is in danger of becoming too expensive for its athletes if a new bill comes to pass. (Shutterstock)

One of Minnesota’s fastest growing high school sports is in danger of becoming too expensive for its athletes if a bill circulating in the state House and Senate comes to pass.

That’s according to organizers for the USA Clay Target League who say a proposal sponsored by a handful of DFL legislators that would ban lead-based ammunition would “more than double” the costs of ammunition for trap shooting athletes and result in many no longer being able to afford the sport.

And now the bill’s chief author in the Senate is defending her proposal from that criticism.

Last month, Sen. Jen McEwen, DFL-Duluth, introduced SF3792, which features language that would prohibit 4H extension work related to shooting sports or angling from “using lead ammunition and lead tackle and require using nontoxic ammunition and nontoxic tackle.” McEwen has said the impetus for her bill is the serious threat lead exposure poses to the environment and human health. A companion bill in the House is sponsored by 10 legislators, all Democrats. Neither version has been scheduled for a committee hearing.

“Shooting sports are gaining in popularity across Minnesota, which is all the more reason to take responsible action so we can mitigate lead exposure and protect our communities,” McEwen said in a statement last month, shortly after introducing the legislation.

The bill includes a section that would require the shooting sports leagues to adopt by Nov. 1, 2024, “rules that prohibit using lead ammunition and require using nontoxic ammunition at all shooting sport practices, competitions, training, and other events.”

Youth clay target shooting ‘not a public health issue,’ league says

That language poses a problem for youth trap shooting athletes across Minnesota, who as of 2023 number more than 12,000, said John Nelson, president for USA Clay Target League, an Eagan-based nonprofit that works with the Minnesota State High School League and more than 400 high schools in providing support for teenage trap shooting athletes.

“Youth clay target shooting sports in Minnesota is not a public health issue,” said Nelson, who runs the largest youth clay target shooting sports program in the country.

“By specifically targeting youth shooting sports, it becomes clear that this is an attack on a school-approved activity that they don’t like,” Nelson said. “The idea that there are over 50,000 Minnesota students that have participated in the League since 2001 that have never had an accident, never had an injury, despite shooting a shotgun over 100 million times, goes contrary to their preferred narrative.”

Sen. Jen McEwen presides over a Feb. 15 meeting of the Senate Labor Committee. (Minnesota Senate Media Services/YouTube)

McEwen, a lawyer in her second term in the state Senate, responded to Nelson’s criticism.

“I support keeping our kids safe as they take part in shooting sports, which is why I am dedicated to furthering legislative solutions to address this dire public and environmental health concern,” McEwen said. “I look forward to continued collaboration with stakeholders to transition towards using non-toxic alternatives that are safe and affordable.”

Nelson said McEwen’s claims about harm to the environment do not apply to the sport of trap shooting, which takes place in a controlled setting, either at or sponsored by shooting ranges that already take measures to mitigate any environmental impact.

Bill sponsors include an assistant principal whose district has trap shooting team

The USA Clay Target League began reaching out to its supporters shortly after learning about the legislation, asking them to provide feedback to legislators who have signed on as sponsors.

Bill sponsors whose districts have high school trap shooting teams include: McEwen (Duluth East and Duluth Denfeld high schools) Athena Hollins and Maria Isa Perez-Vega (St. Paul Public Schools), Mike Freiberg (Hopkins High School), Peter Fischer and John Marty (Roseville Area High School), Larry Kraft (St. Louis Park High School), Patty Acomb and Kelly Morrison (Minnetonka High School) and Josiah Hill (Stillwater High School).

Hill, a first-term legislator, is a former Stillwater High School teacher and current assistant principal at Stillwater Middle School, according to his LinkedIn page. The Ponies Clay Target Team was one of the top teams in the state last year. In 2022, one of Stillwater High School’s clay target shooting athletes won the individual state championship.

The Minnesota State High School League officially sanctioned trap shooting as a sport in 2012. Since then, the number of individuals and teams competing have grown annually. And its participation isn’t limited to rural communities, as a number of school districts in the metro area now have teams, including those from St. Paul, Bloomington, Roseville and Burnsville.

In an interview with Fox 9 News last month, McEwen said several studies have shown the “effect that small amounts of lead, cumulatively over time, might have on especially young people, and their developing brains, and systems.”

“It’s not a trade-off that we are willing to make, but I also don’t think that it’s black and white in terms of the timing,” McEwen said when asked whether the legislation could be crafted to phase out the use of lead-based ammunition.


Hank Long

Hank Long is a journalism and communications professional whose writing career includes coverage of the Minnesota legislature, city and county governments and the commercial real estate industry. Hank received his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, where he studied journalism, and his law degree at the University of St. Thomas. The Minnesota native lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and four children. His dream is to be around when the Vikings win the Super Bowl.