Imperial County Scouting: Shoot First

Explorer Scouts: they’re the
top-of-the-line Boy (and Girl) Scouts, and they take on environmental
programs, create charities and generally do good throughout the land.
So what a surprise it was to find that Explorer Scouts are being trained
to carry weapons and supplement the U.S. Border Patrol down in Imperial
County.

Aren’t these the kids who are supposed
to walk grandmothers across busy streets?

As it turns out, Exploring – part
of the Boy Scouts of America’s Learning for Life program – introduced
a law enforcement “merit badge” a few years ago, and it has since
become one of the most popular areas of concentration.
Today, six of the eleven college scholarships available to Explorer
Scouts are in Law Enforcement (with a seventh focused on fire-fighting).

People have argued for years over the
paramilitary qualities in all of scouting, and whether this is a positive
or negative for the nation, but there can be no question about the reaction
to the New York Times article and its photos of scowling scouts with
guns. Reader comments have ranged from “this is nuts” to “I
wish we had this in Australia.”

The first of Exploring’s five “focus
areas” is Job Opportunities, and in a 2008 article on non-profit activities,
Bunker Hill, IL scout leader Carl Benjamin makes it clear why Law Enforcement
is a good candidate for any Explorer Post to pursue: “…there
continues to be a lack of good qualified law enforcement individuals
across our country. Exploring hopes to add to the change in this problem
by encouraging young people to look to the future in law enforcement.”

Other Explorer Posts emphasize such
vocations as engineering, aeronautics and environmentalism. The
hands-on nature of the preparation of these young men and women (ages
15-20) provides unique learning experiences and real-world contacts
in their chosen areas.

But should they be carrying weapons
and patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border? Are they law enforcement
workers-in-training or future vigilantes?

On one hand, this is no different than
ROTC training at the high school and college level, where students learn
the skills necessary to play a role in national defense and go to summer
camps to actually train with members of the Armed Forces. But
ROTC students are not scouts, and it’s disconcerting to think of scouts
carrying weapons and screaming “United States Border Patrol, put your
hands up” as described in the Times article.

Some of the law enforcement training
deals with school shootings such as Columbine, which makes it particularly
disturbing to read that one young lady likes the program because she’s
“attracted by the guns,” according to the article.

Exploring is a 60-year-old program
with an impressive record of achievement. And it may be that learning
to take down an escaping illegal immigrant by putting your foot on his
or her back is a valuable skill to teach. But it has dismayed
some of the Times readers that the scouts are into a “fascistic”
mode. Says one, “Can’t we teach these kids something that will
actually help them and safeguard our country’s future? I suggest history,
arithmetic and a course on how to manage their finances.”