While some students are protesting gun violence, gun ranges around the country are full of teens and young adults practicing shooting skills—and talking about the positive influence of firearms training on their lives.
According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, about 5,000 high schools and universities around the country have shooting teams. The clubs use a variety of firearms—from air rifles that shoot pellets to 9mm pistols that fire bullets. Members invest hundreds of dollars in stiff uniforms and stable, supportive shoes for spending hours standing, kneeling, or lying prone to fire at targets. Some members hope to represent the United States in the Olympics. Some simply love the camaraderie and mental focus required to shoot well.
On a recent weekend, high school and college gun team members gathered in Georgia. They were there to work with JP O’Connor, a coach connected to USA Shooting, the Olympic organization.
Many students attended the event with their parents. The adults had no qualms putting firearms in the hands of kids—many of whom are too young to drive a car or vote. Participants, coaches, and parents say there’s an enormous difference between someone bent on violence and members of a shooting team. O’Connor believes when people are educated about guns “we’re actually safer.” He says shooting clubs focus on safety and teach basic life skills.
Like what? Patience, self-control, and responsibility for starters. Great shooters don’t just load and shoot. They take each movement slowly—including controlling pulse and breathing.
Lydia Odlin grew up in Maine. In the rural parts of the state, hunting is prevalent. But in the southern part, she couldn’t even wear her rifle team’s T-shirt at school. “You just kind of avoided the topic of guns,” she says.
Odlin is now a member of the Georgia Southern University rifle team. There, she says, “You say you’re on a rifle team. . . . It’s, ‘Oh cool. What do you shoot? How far do you shoot?’”
Shooting has helped Odlin in many ways. “You can’t become a quality shooter without becoming a quality person,” she claims. “I’ve never gone out onto a range and not learned something new.”
Kevin Neuendorf, director of marketing communications at USA Shooting, sees a team member’s gun as a piece of equipment “no different than Serena’s tennis racket.” He says shooting brings discipline, opportunity, and success to some non-typical athletes. After all, “not every kid can be successful at basketball or football.”