Gold Medal Gunslingers
Combat Shooting Targets the Olympic Games
Section Two: Targeting Gun ControlCombat shooting's principal boosters generally oppose gun control laws. The most prominent example is retired U.S. Marine Lieutenant Colonel John Dean (Jeff) Cooper, the IPSC's first president, who essentially created combat shooting.c
Whatever the formal political role of combat shooting enthusiasts, their hobby itself poses a threat to gun control laws throughout the world by further legitimizing guns that were designed for lethality rather than sport. Restrictions in the United States are particularly vulnerable, because they are predicated on exemptions for "sporting" firearms.d
In the U.S., attempts to wrap restricted weapons in a cloak of respectability by utilizing them in an alleged sport are nothing new. In 1986, the U.S. Congress banned the sale and production of new machine guns for civilian use and possession in the United States. Three months later, the National Rifle Association announced its intent to introduce legislation to repeal the ban. As a "prelude" to the bill's introduction, the organization announced a newly minted position on the "sporting" use of machine guns: "The NRA recognizes that sporting events involving automatic firearms are similar to those events such as silhouette target shooting and other target-related endeavors, and deserve the same respect and support."15 While the bill was never introduced, comparable rhetoric has frequently been used in other instances.
The NRA and other opponents of the U.S. assault weapons ban used similar arguments and language in reference to the supposed "sporting" use of military-style combat weapons. Since enactment of the ban and similar import restrictions, the gun industry has repeatedly made slight modifications in the features of its weapons in order to pass the "sporting purposes" test and evade the law�a practice widely known as "sporterization."e
Today, the drive to promote combat shooting serves the same purpose for a wide variety of weapons, as illustrated with stark clarity by the words of former USPSA president Dave Stanford:
All of our matches involve semi-automatic firearms, so we're really one of the strongest bulwarks towards legitimizing the continued use of semi-automatic firearms in America.16Discussions surrounding the introduction of the "three-gun shoot" to combat shooting underscore this political agenda. The "three-gun shoot" allows combat shooters to use three types of weapons in the same event: riot shotguns, assault rifles, and high-caliber pistols. In the words of one club official, the three-gun shoot creates "an opportunity to use politically incorrect weapons, often called assault weapons, for the fun of it."17
Examples of Types of Weapons Used in the Three-Gun Shoot
Our largest potential group of new recruits are the hundreds of thousands of new CCW [concealed carry weapon permit] holders�the largest pool of new gun owners ever. If we could get even a relatively small percentage of CCW holders interested in the sport, we could hit all our membership goals easily.18While IPSC members argue that the use of virtually any weapon�including high-caliber pistols, high-capacity assault rifles, and semiautomatic riot shotguns�in almost any context against human targets qualifies as a "sporting" use, the U.S. government has thus far ruled otherwise. In 1998 the U.S. Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms banned the importation of a wide range of "sporterized" foreign-made assault firearms and issued a study explaining its ruling. In the study, the department concluded:
While some may consider practical shooting a sport, by its very nature it is closer to police/combat-style competition and is not comparable to the more traditional types of sports, such as hunting and organized competitive target shooting. Therefore, we are not convinced that practical shooting does, in fact, constitute a sporting purpose under section 925(d)(3).19This adverse ruling certainly intensifies the interest of the gun lobby in gaining Olympic status for combat shooting. In the face of such an international imprimatur, it would become far more difficult for Treasury officials to sustain their interpretation that they "are not convinced" combat shooting is a sport.
Outside the United States, in countries that ban or severely restrict the availability of handguns, assault weapons, and other firearms to the general public, combat shooting offers a means by which pro-gun advocates�under the guise of combat shooting as sport�can begin chipping away at these laws.
New Zealand offers a case study. New Zealand has all but prohibited civilian possession of handguns since the 1930s. As a result, crime with handguns is rare, and only about one percent of police officers carry firearms on duty. In 1980, New Zealand Pistol Association official Bruce McMillan stated:
At the moment there are no plans for combat shooting. One of our problems is that we are very shy of public image. We feel perhaps that running around with guns in holsters, having loaded guns in a running or moving situation in relation to targets or firing points, is a bit more than our public image can cope with right now. Things could change. People tell us that we are worrying about a public image that is already bad, so that we may as well live up to it.20Today, 19 years after declaring "no plans for combat shooting," New Zealand's 3,000 handgun owners and 80 pistol clubs have persuaded authorities to allow regular combat shooting at humanoid targets using assault weapons, riot shotguns, and handguns. The same pattern has been followed in Australia, Canada, Europe, South America, and South Africa.
To pro-gun advocates, framing combat shooting as a wholesome sport is an effective method of normalizing assault weapons and powerful handguns, both in the law and in public opinion. Doing so supports the gun lobby's constant campaign to sell more guns to civilians.
c) Cooper, a living legend for many gun advocates, is known as the "gunner's guru." Cooper also serves on the board of directors of the National Rifle Association, is a columnist for Guns & Ammo magazine, and is author of the monthly newsletter "Jeff Cooper's Commentaries," available on the internet at www.cybersurf.co.uk/JeffCooper. Cooper's inflammatory writings on a wide range of issues�with the common denominators of racial antagonism, fear of federal authority, and hostility to international cooperation�offer an insight not only into his own views regarding the use of firearms, but perhaps into the paranoia and fear that frame the very context in which combat shooting occurs. Cooper regularly refers to Japanese as "Nips," and has suggested calling black South Africans from the Gauteng province "Orang-gautengs." Cooper's racist views are not limited to other nations. In 1994, he wrote: "Los Angeles and Ho Chi Min City have declared themselves sister cities. It makes sense�they are both Third World metropolises formerly occupied by Americans." And commenting on the murder rate in Los Angeles, Cooper noted in 1991 that "the consensus is that no more than five to ten people in a hundred who die by gunfire in Los Angeles are any loss to society. These people fight small wars amongst themselves. It would seem a valid social service to keep them well-supplied with ammunition."
d) Section 925(d)(3) of the Gun Control Act of 1968 states, "The Secretary shall authorize a firearm or ammunition to be imported or brought into the United States or any possession thereof if the firearm or ammunition...is a type...[that]...is generally recognized as particularly suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes, excluding surplus military firearms...."
e) "Sporterized" assault weapons incorporate minor cosmetic modifications in an effort to subvert restrictions on their manufacture and sale. For example, one common tactic for sporterizing assault rifles is to substitute a "thumbhole" stock for a pistol grip. This slight modification changes the appearance of the firearm while maintaining the function of the pistol grip�allowing the weapon to be easily fired from the hip. Other common sporterization modifications include the removal of threaded barrels, flash suppressors, or folding stocks.