Photo via Pixabay

Let’s be fair, Time isn’t likely to join the ranks of magazines like American Rifleman on the reading lists of most American gun owners. It’s the mainstream media, especially with all that implies. They’re not likely to be pro-gun.

But Time is also far more likely to be fair than most, which is probably the only reason they’re willing to admit high school shooting teams are becoming a thing. It’s also the only reason they’re willing to admit the NRA is part of the reason.

The Minnesota State High School Clay Target League championship bills itself as the largest shooting sports event in the world. With the bustling crowds and flood of corporate interest, it could be mistaken for, say, a scene on the NASCAR circuit, except that the stars are teenage boys and girls. And they’re armed. That’s the entire point, of course, in a shooting competition, but there are moments when the world beyond scorecards and ear protection edges into view. Bernie Bogenreif, coach for the Roseville Area High School trap team, detects one such instance as competitors from another school line up for a team photo: a couple of dozen kids arranged, shoulder to shoulder, guns in hand.

“Bet that one isn’t going in the yearbook,” -Bogenreif quips.

Then again, it might. In much of the country, the words guns and schools do tend to go together more often in horrific headlines than under a senior portrait, wedged between Class Treasurer and Spring Track. But more and more yearbooks are marking competitive shooting as a part of high school life. Even as mass shootings have inspired protests and walkouts in many schools, a growing number—-sometimes the same schools—are sanctioning shooting squads as an extracurricular activity. In 2015, for example, 9,245 students, in 317 schools across three states, participated in the USA High School Clay Target League. Since then, participation has spiked 137%: in 2018, 21,917 students, from 804 teams in 20 states—-including New York and California, as well as Texas—competed.

The uptick reflects at least two complex and relentlessly challenging realities—guns in America and adolescence. On one level, high school shooting teams weave themselves into the national debate over firearms. The NRA has funded these programs. From 2014 to 2016, the latest three years for which the NRA Foundation’s tax returns are publicly available, the organization provided more than $4 million in cash and equipment grants to schools and organizations that support scholastic sports shooting. The support dovetails with the group’s original emphasis on gun safety and training. But it also aligns with the NRA’s transformation into a political power-house that frames firearm ownership with a defiant cultural conservatism. There’s a reason Barry Thompson, a service engineer for medical equipment who has a lifetime NRA membership, helps coach the East Ridge High School team. “I’m upfront with the parents,” says Thompson, 59. “I am out here with an ulterior motive. These kids will be voting.”

It’s a long, detailed article, but there are a couple of takeaways here.

One is how the evil NRA does far more than just throwing money at politicians.

What’s that? Nothing?

Kind of what I thought.

Yes, the NRA is a political group. Yes, they also support shooting sports programs as a way to grow the firearms community. However, let’s also face facts, these teams would still exist without the NRA. They’d simply lack the support from a powerful benefactor who can also help make their events a success.

Let’s be honest, what do the gun control groups do? They lecture, they cajole, they belittle, but at the end of the day they simply believe the only thing they need to do to make the world a better place is to take away all of our guns.

The NRA, on the other hand, does far more, and they do it in a climate where they’re vilified at every turn by not just groups like the ones I mentioned.