Before the Olympic Games kicked off this year in Pyeongchang, the NRA’s website published an in-depth preview of one sport: The biathlon.
The NRA’s interest in this area makes sense, considering that biathlon is the only sport in the Winter Games that requires athletes to carry a .22 caliber rifle on their back — and pause multiple times for a shooting competition.
But while the NRA is supporting the biathletes, the feeling isn’t necessary mutual.
Halfway across the world, amid the most important competition of their lives, American biathletes are reeling along with the rest of the country in the aftermath of last week’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 people dead. In response, they’re using their platform in a surprising way — by advocating for gun control.
The USA biathletes speaking out this week know that out of all the athletes in Pyeongchang, they’re the ones whom the public would peg as gun rights enthusiasts. But that’s not necessarily the case.
“I support an assault weapons ban,” Lowell Bailey, a 36-year-old four-time Olympian, told the Washington Post. “I really do. Our county needs to wake up. Our country needs to change. There’s just no excuse. I compete against all of these other World Cup nations — Germany, Norway. How good are they on the range? They’re great at rifle marksmanship. Do you know how strict their gun controls law are? It’s a travesty America hasn’t changed and continues to go down this path. It just makes me want to cry.”
I’m very proud of my teammates’ brave words and support them 100%. Biathlon requires discipline, focus, and… https://t.co/1dqgGphJ81
— Clare Egan (@BiathleteEgan) February 21, 2018
Susan Dunklee, a two-time Oympian who won a historic silver medal at the biathlon world championships last year for Team USA, told reporters that gun violence in America has, at times, made her feel conflicted about her sport.
“This is so far removed from that type of shooting. This is precision shooting. We’re using a .22. We’re working on emotional control,” Dunklee said. “But there is still that association of it being a firearm. And it really takes a lot of the joy I have out of pursuing a sport like this.”
Bailey also stressed the difference between the .22 caliber and an assault rifle, and said he has absolutely “no interest” in owning the latter.
“I have no interest in owning another weapon that can kill another human being, that’s designed to kill another human being, and to do it an expeditious way,” Bailey said. “Why is that allowed? It’s maddening.”
Considering the United States’ infamous gun-loving culture, one might think this country would excel in any sport that involved a rifle. But that’s not the case in biathlon. In fact, biathlon is the only winter sport in which the U.S. has never won an Olympic medal. Countries like Norway, France, and Germany typically dominate the podiums — countries that have notably stricter gun laws than the United States.
Bailey said that biathletes from other countries can’t wrap their minds around the lax gun laws in America.
“They’re absolutely baffled,” he said. “They’re baffled at the political landscape of the United States, and how we can continue to put an assault rifle into the hands of anyone who wants to walk into a gun store and buy one.”
Bailey’s teammate, four-time Olympian Tim Burke, simply doesn’t understand why there is so much resistance to gun control. It seems pretty simple.
“Not only am I a biathlete, but I’m also an avid hunter,” Burke said. “If locking up all of my sports rifles and my hunting rifles meant saving one life, I would do it.”