Guns are such a political flashpoint in America that even their most controlled, structured use brings questions of safety and regulation. You don’t hear Olympic rowers answering questions about water safety, but you’ll definitely hear competitive shooters fielding questions about gun safety. And it’s starting to wear on them.
Ginny Thrasher, a 19-year-old student, won the first gold medal of the Rio Olympics for the United States, setting an Olympic record of 208.0 in the 10-meter air rifle event. Shortly afterward, she noted that the ongoing debate about gun safety in America has swept up her sport, and she’s not entirely pleased with that:
“Some of the [controversy surrounding] gun laws in America is just distracting from our sport, which is very different,” Thrasher said.
It’s worth noting that Thrasher and her teammates are knowledgeable of gun safety techniques and highly trained, using expensive and complex equipment often not available to the general public. They are, quite literally, the very last shooters who are the focus of, or need to worry about, gun safety laws. Even so, they note that sweeping discussions about gun safety and regulation often sweep up their sport along the way.
“Unfortunately our sport does get wrapped up into the bigger picture of things,” Thrasher’s teammate Kim Rhode said earlier this week. “At the same time, we are all shooters, we are all avid outdoorsmen and we all definitely back and support the Second Amendment. It kind of goes hand-in-hand.”
Rhode, a six-time Olympian, is an outspoken advocate of the National Rifle Association and spoke at the 2012 Republican National Convention. She has noted how gun laws have made it more difficult to train because of restrictions on ammunition purchase.
The Charlotte Observer pointed out that the shooting team is one of the most successful in Team USA history, winning 108 medals overall. The 51 golds that U.S. Shooting has won total more than 5 percent of the golds that the United States has won overall.
Even so, the toxicity of the gun topic has had an effect on the sport’s health inside the U.S. “When you look at things like sponsorships and stuff like that, most of our sponsors come from within our industry,” Rhode told the Observer. “We don’t get the more general-type sponsors. Part of that is because of the fact that we do shoot. But with that being said, hopefully things will change and hopefully people will recognize it as the sport that it is. We definitely put in a lot of hours and train and travel and have World Cups and competitions, the same as everyone else.”
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.
Yahoo Sports’ Greg Wyshynski reports live from the streets of Rio: