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Gold Medal Gunslingers

Combat Shooting Targets the Olympic Games

Section One: Targeting the Olympics

The Olympic Games are the world's premier sporting event. In the most recent Summer Olympics, held in 1996 in Atlanta, 197 countries competed for medals in 27 sporting events and participated in numerous additional exhibition sports.1

The Olympic Charter sets out the ideals and the aims of the Olympic Movement. Under the Charter, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) "participates in actions to promote peace" and "dedicates its efforts to ensuring that...violence is banned."2 The IOC's goals include "the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles"3 and "encouraging the establishment of a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity."4 As the Charter summarizes these noble aims: "The goal of the Olympic Movement is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world."5

Now, the peaceful intent of the Olympic Movement is being challenged. The gun lobby�eager to expand the perception of "sporting" activities involving firearms�has launched an international effort to make combat shooting an Olympic sport. Boosters of combat shooting hope that association with the Olympics, under the euphemistic name of "practical" shooting, will legitimize and popularize both their competitions and the increasingly lethal weapons they use.

By establishing combat shooting as an international sport, the gun lobby would also advance several of its most cherished goals. Olympic status for combat shooting would create new legal arguments in favor of non-sporting firearms, new opportunities to attract children into the gun culture, and new marketing opportunities for struggling gun makers.

Traditional target shooting has long been a part of the Olympics. Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the French nobleman who launched the modern Olympics more than 100 years ago, was himself a former French pistol champion. One of the first nine sports he included in the new event was shooting.6 At the 1996 Summer Olympics, more than 100 countries competed in 15 separate shooting events.a These athletes employ specialty weapons, take careful aim at bull's-eye targets, and usually fire from a set position.

So-called practical shooting is almost the complete opposite of traditional target shooting sports. Competitors conduct their activities over a "run-and-gun" obstacle course where they face a variety of "real-world" or "practical" shoot/don't shoot situations, such as firing at the human silhouette of a "hostage-taker" while sparing the "hostage." Unlike traditional target sports, the weapons used are most often large-caliber pistols, assault rifles, and riot shotguns. And although participants use the more innocuous term "practical" when dealing with the general public, among themselves enthusiasts routinely refer to their pastime as "combat" or "tactical" shooting. Throughout this report such activity will be referred to by its original name, combat shooting.

In a typical "course of fire," contestants begin with a rapid draw from a holster, and are then timed as they run, crawl, and sometimes climb through a shoot-�em-up scenario, all while firing at human-scaled head-and-torso targets. Human targets intended to be shot are often referred to as "bad guys." "No-shoot" targets are often called "hostages." The highest scores are awarded to "head shots" and "heart shots" because of their heightened lethality, with points awarded for speed of shooting as much as for accuracy.

A landscape of wrecked cars, dangerous dark alleyways, ubiquitous home invasions, and crime-ridden businesses dominates the world of the combat shooter. With titles like "Save the Bank," "The Bodyguard," "Cartel House Raid," and "Carjacked by Gang Members," courses of fire often reflect the self-defense fantasies of the combat shooter, as demonstrated in the following examples:

  • At the 1995 New Zealand Practical Pistol Nationals held in Rotorua, New Zealand, "stage" titles for the courses of fire included: "Helicopter Raid," "It Pays to Run Hard," "Pram Push" (pushing a baby carriage "while shooting one's way to a �sniper shelter'"), "To Save a Friend," and "Bomb Alert" (where the shooter had to place a bomb between shots).7

  • According to a 1998 account of an Australian competition at which New Zealanders competed, the instructions for "Wake Up" explained that the scenario "begins with the shooter lying on the bed, gun unloaded in the dresser drawer." 8

  • One course, "ATM Blues," held at the Australian Nationals in 1995, required shooters to begin by inserting a bank card into a mock automated teller machine, thereby activating moving targets in a "speed shoot."9

  • A world championship held in 1993 in Bisley, UK, featured the "Bank of England stage, where you engage two IPSC [standard, humanoid] targets at 35 metres from the doorway of a helicopter...dismount and dash to the Bank doors which, after you kicked them open, left you crawling under ropes to the engaging targets." Photographs accompanying this account showed combat pistol participants firing from a London double-decker bus.10

    1998 Australian Championships, Little River, Melbourne

    The campaign to bring combat shooting to the Olympics is led by the International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC), the international organization representing combat shooters. The IPSC was founded at the International Combat Pistol Conference held in Columbia, Missouri, in May 1976.11 Its initial membership of nine nations has today grown to 65 member regions representing 50,000 shooters worldwide.b The IPSC's U.S. chapter, the United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA), was founded in 1985. Headquartered in Sedro Woolley, Washington, the USPSA claims approximately 15,000 members nationwide.12

    Combat shooting has also enjoyed robust support from the firearms industry�both in the United States and internationally. In its 1996 president's report, the IPSC thanked a long list of gun industry sponsors for their financial support of the World Shoot in Brazil, including Taurus, CZ, Springfield Armory, Tanfoglio, Glock, Walther, and Rossi. Sponsors outside the gun industry included Coca-Cola and Nestl�. 13

    Many of the same brand names are worn by industry-sponsored IPSC competitors. A wide range of companies sponsor shooters, from old-line companies like Colt's Manufacturing of West Hartford, Connecticut to smaller specialty firms such as Wilson Combat ("Home of the Winningest Competition Pistols in IPSC History"), based in Berryville, Arkansas. Wilson advertises its Model Special Ops "CQB" (Close Quarters Battle) pistol as a custom combat weapon for self defense or competition, with uses including:

    Self Defense, Offensive/Defensive Special Operations, Police and Military, USPSA [IPSC] Limited Class Competition, Informal Target Shooting, Plinking.14

    The advent of combat shooting offers a marketing bonanza for all of these companies by associating guns designed principally to kill other human beings with traditional sporting activities. This is just one of the many advantages sought by the gun lobby and the firearms industry in the push for Olympic recognition of combat shooting. As this report and its accompanying video will document, increasing the acceptance of combat shooting worldwide will assist them in efforts to sell non-sporting firearms, recruit kids into the gun culture, and even fight against gun control laws.

    1998 Australian Championships, Little River, Melbourne

    a) The events were: air pistol, free pistol, rapid-fire pistol, sport pistol, rifle events, air rifle, free rifle prone, three-position rifle, running target, shotgun events, trap, skeet, and double trap.

    b) A "region" is usually a country, but can include a geographical area or a political subdivision (e.g. Hong Kong).

    Go to Section Two: Targeting Gun Control

    Back to Gold Medal Gunslingers Table of Contents

All contents � 1999 Violence Policy Center