Professional jealousy and good-natured rivalry has always been a pervasive (and welcome) feature of shooting sports. Unfortunately, there is also a darker flipside to this phenomenon, and every so often it rears its ugly head and spoils the mood for everybody. What I am referring to is the “I am more dedicated than you” mindset that infects some members of the sport shooting community, and the dangerously divisive effect it has on us.
I have witnessed people I respect and count as friends embrace this fallacy, and I myself came perilously close to thinking along similar lines a few years ago. The school of thought, if one can even call it that, basically claims that anyone who does not compete in shooting sports whilst meeting certain unspecific and subjective criteria, or holds Dedicated Sport Shooter status in an “undesirable” discipline, is frankly not worthy of being called a dedicated sport shooter.
The reasons for people holding this stance varies between individuals. Some merely embrace it as a personal form of snobbery or an attempt at projecting insecurities about their self-worth onto other members of their fraternity. Others again harbour the fear that somehow, if the number of people who licence firearms with dedicated sport status increases, this will place their personal firearm rights in jeopardy.
Dedicated sports-person status is something that was made-up for the purpose of restricting firearm ownership. It is a segment of legal language. A dedicated sport shooter is defined by the Firearms Control Act of 2000 as a person who is a member of an accredited association, has passed the relevant training courses of the association, and regularly participate in sport shooting events.
Nowhere does it stipulate that some sporting disciplines are “more dedicated” than others, or that participants who win medals and achieve provincial or national colours are “more dedicated” than others. Doing so would be ridiculous even for the FCA.
It is an incontestable fact that in order for a shooter to become so highly proficient that they dominate the divisions in which they participate sufficiently in order to rack up a regular medal tally, requires no small amount of effort. Very few of the thousands and thousands of sport shooters in South Africa have the resources, referring here to the time and finances, to become that competitive. Even fewer can be referred to as truly competitive on a national and even international level.
Most sport shooters participate when and how they can, with whatever equipment they can afford at the time. These people pay their club membership and association affiliation fees just like everyone else. They help run their clubs and sporting bodies. They build the stages at competitions. Some enjoy competing against themselves on challenging courses of fire, whilst others seek to improve in relation to their peers. They sustain firearm dealerships through their purchases. This unwashed mass of “less dedicated” folk form the very backbone of the sport those who sneer at them participate in, and without their existence there frankly would be no shooting sports.
Dedication is, after all, a subjective concept. For some people driving 200-odd kilometres three times a year to participate in a postal-shooting competition, in order to keep that AR15 he loves owning and shooting, is a big ask. For other people the high round-count of certain disciplines is completely unaffordable, and they choose to participate in a more sedate interpretation of shooting sports. And for others still it is no issue competing in three different disciplines simultaneously, shooting hundreds of rounds a month.
The thing is, we can’t use cookie-cutter criteria on people and expect them to fit the boxes we try and force them into. Our community is, thankfully, much too varied for such clumsy methodology. Personal circumstances define (with a wide variance) what can be considered true dedication, and the law does not differentiate.
There is the concern by some that the existence of these “lesser dedicated” sport shooters threaten their firearm ownership rights. This is nonsensical. In order for an association to be accredited, it must be approved as such by the SAPS. This infers that the authorities are more than happy with the philosophy and principles of the organisation. There have indeed been cases of individual members of associations committing fraudulent acts, but they were quickly discovered and booted from the organisations in question, as well as being reported to the police. The system, and thus the relevant associations safeguarding their members’ interests, clearly works as it should. The fact that the authorities have not pulled a single organisation’s accreditation further serves to underline this.
Paranoia and internal division is dangerous and has the potential to do great harm to our firearm rights. The more people we have that participate in shooting sports, and the larger our community of dedicated sport shooters becomes, the stronger and louder our voice will be. This in turn gives us greater ability to fight for our rights and protect them.
We are all, after all, gun owners. Black, White, Coloured, Indian, Asian. Hunters, sport shooters, defensive carriers. We are the targets of a hostile media, a hostile government, and hostile billion-dollar NGOs.
If we can’t see the wood for the trees, and that we should bind together in the fight for our rights, and instead continue to allow ourselves to be consumed by infantile minutiae, then the fight is already lost.