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I’m a Teenage Biathlete Who Grew Up Shooting. Here’s Why I Support Gun Safety Laws.

I first picked up a gun when I was eight years old.

Granted, it was only an air rifle, designed for shooting kids’ pellet targets, but I still remember the rush of getting down on the mat for the first time, pulling the trigger, and hearing the satisfying sound of metal against metal—watching the black target flip to white. A hit! 

I scrambled back onto my skate skis and headed off for the slopes, fearless and immune to the bitter cold in my hot pink snowsuit—and so my love of biathlon was born. I’ve since outgrown my snowsuit and upgraded to shooting with a .22, but my love of the sport has never changed.

School shootings on the rise across America

School shootings have become an all-too-common facet of growing up in America. In 2018, a student’s risk of dying in a school shooting reached its highest level in at least 25 years.

Source

Kristin M. Holland, et al., “Characteristics of School-Associated Youth Homicides — United States, 1994–2018,” CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 68, no. 3 (2019): 53–60.

As a young child, I only ever associated guns with biathlon. However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate the massive responsibility that gun ownership entails. Despite the stereotypes that are often put on gun owners, I am horrified by the prevalence of gun violence in this country. As a high school student, I have experienced the stress of attending school with the ever-present threat of school shootings. 

In order to prevent gun violence in the future, I believe it’s critical that we open up the dialogue to young people who may feel anxious, helpless, and voiceless when it comes to guns and their personal safety. We must encourage frank discussion of these threats in a setting that does not normalize school shooting culture, but rather arms students with the courage to take a stand and pursue change. 

In addition to lockdown drills, I believe it would be hugely valuable for schools to provide gun violence information sessions to students, educating them on local and national gun legislation, providing them with opportunities to get involved with gun violence prevention, and facilitating genuine discussion about mental health as it pertains to gun violence. 

We also need to be doing a better job of promoting responsible gun ownership for teens who have guns in the house. One of the most productive means of gun violence prevention is arming gun owners with facts and responsible practices to lessen the frequency of deaths by suicide, domestic violence, and fatal accidents.

I adamantly support gun safety laws, and I’m deeply frustrated by the fact that the NRA has achieved the level of political influence that they have.

“The NRA does not speak for me as a gun owner, but for a long time, I didn’t know of an alternative.”

Then I discovered Colorado Gun Owners for Safety (CGOS), a group of gun owners who support commonsense reform and want to change the narrative around gun ownership. Joining CGOS has been one of the most worthwhile and personally rewarding decisions I have ever made. Through the organization, I have learned so much about political advocacy and the gun violence prevention movement, and I have met so many thoughtful, interesting people dedicated to fighting this fight.

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If you’re interested in learning more about Gun Owners for Safety, we’d love to hear from you. Email us at gunowners@giffords.org and one of our staff members will be in touch.

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My interest in gun violence prevention has also influenced my artistic practice. In my recent photo series, School Shootings, I use conceptual still life photography to comment on gun violence in American schools. I reconstruct spaces that are suggestive of classroom interiors using familiar objects like stools, desks, and blackboards.

Because still life photography is often regarded as innocuous, it may seem like an unlikely medium for such a violent topic. However, my work derives its “shock factor” from the incongruities it entertains; my compositions are simple, spare, and even aesthetically appealing, but in such a quiet, visually serene environment, gun casings and other symbols of school shootings create a disturbing dissonance. 

Over the past year, I’ve been fortunate enough to exhibit the work from this series in exhibitions across the country. Most recently, my photo “Nature Morte” was included in the Rocky Mountain Biennial at Museum of Art Fort Collins in Fort Collins, Colorado. Finding an intersection between art and gun violence prevention has been such a rewarding experience. I hope to continue making work about gun violence since it is an issue so close to my heart.

This year I was selected as a Giffords Courage Fellow, and I am thrilled to be representing the organization and taking part in the program. It has been such a valuable opportunity to be aided by so many knowledgeable gun violence prevention activists in creating meaningful change in my community. I can’t wait to see where the fellowship takes me and the rest of the fellows in my class. 

If you, like me, are a responsible gun owner horrified by gun violence, I would urge you to get involved with the Giffords National Gun Owner Coalition. Together, our voices can be louder than the NRA’s, and together, we can end this crisis.

STAND UP FOR SAFETY

Americans are not as divided as it may seem. Join Giffords Gun Owners for Safety to stand in support of responsible un ownership. We’ll share ways to connect with fellow gun owners and support our fight for a safer America.