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My Rifle Makes Me an Athlete, Not a Criminal [OPINION]

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“What sport do you do?”

An innocent question, but I can’t count the number of horrified looks I’ve received when I’ve given my response: “I shoot 10 meter, precision air riflery.”

With our country in the midst of an epidemic of gun violence ranging from the Orlando nightclub shooting to the Parkland school shooting, my answer isn’t exactly popular. However, I find it extremely unfair to have my character questioned based on the sport that I participate in, and to everyone who has judged me because of it, we need to separate sports from politics.

A rifle can either be a tool used in competition (like a tennis racket) or a weapon. The difference? The intentions of the person holding it. I, for one, shoot paper, not people. Just because my sport uses a rifle does not mean in any way, shape, or form that I tolerate violence or have anything less than the utmost disgust and outrage for the people who would turn rifles into weapons on innocent people. I, too, feel horror and heartbreak at each new tragedy where someone turned a gun on the people surrounding them, their co-workers, or, even worse, their fellow students. But don’t project the anger at these events onto the people who shoot for sport. On behalf of everyone who shoots clay targets, precision riflery, or other similar sports, we’re athletes and competitors, not monsters.

“You use a gun?”

Surprisingly, I’ve received this follow-up question quite often. It’s usually accompanied by a disbelieving tone that, depending on the context, means that either I don’t fit this person’s idea of what someone who shoots looks like, or he or she can’t believe that I would “stoop” to such a level. Rifles don’t have to be synonymous with violence and hate. In fact, like many other extracurricular activities, precision riflery has taught me discipline, patience, perseverance, and how to control my mindset, all valuable lessons that translate into life skills. I practice everyday at a sport that requires me to shoot between heartbeats, and if I get upset, stressed, or distracted, my timing is thrown off, and I don’t get the score that I want. The focus required for my sport has made me a better athlete, a better student, and a more patient, thoughtful person than I was before.

“What do you think of [fill in most recent tragedy involving a gun]?”

Simple answer: It’s a tragedy, it never should’ve happened, and I have the utmost sympathy for everyone affected by this senseless act of violence. Honestly, I’m surprised people have to ask. Just because my sport requires a rifle instead of a soccer ball doesn’t mean that I lose all my humanity.

“What do you think about gun control?”

This question is irritating at best. A conversation about sports is no place for politics, and I would be extremely surprised if anyone asked a baseball player who he supported in the most recent election solely based on his sport. Why, then, is it acceptable to politically charge my sport? Or worse, assume I have flawed morals?

“Remind me not to make you mad.”

Don’t ever say this. Ever. You might think you’re “joking,” but this ignorant comment isn’t funny. First of all, implying that I’m going to turn violent if I get mad is incredibly insulting and hurtful. Whether you meant to subtly compare me to a school shooter or not, it’s a vile comparison that has no place ever being spoken and just proves that you don’t know me at all. And secondly, why do you think that my participation in my sport automatically makes me a violent person? Because of the rifle? Would we be having this conversation if I played lacrosse?

Let’s be clear. I have no problem talking about an activity that has changed my life and introduced me to wonderful competitors and teammates who are now some of my closest friends. I draw the line, however, when the conversation turns judgemental, negative, or politically charged. So to everyone who thinks that anyone who is involved with rifles is a monster, I have a challenge for you: Get to know that person. Turns out, you might be pleasantly surprised that we’re human after all.

Sydney (pictured), 17, has qualified for the GHSA Riflery State Championships three years in a row and is a member of the All-Area Team, with a personal best of 296 out of 300 points.

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