Like other sports groups, USA Shooting has struggled during the coronavirus pandemic. When surging cases in the Colorado Springs, Colo., area prompted the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center to close for several weeks, its shooters practiced by firing off air guns inside a defunct Macy’s.
USA Shooting has made one gain, however, that few sports governing bodies can match during the pandemic’s cutbacks: It landed a decade-long partnership worth millions.
Hillsdale College, a conservative Christian school of about 1,500 in southern Michigan, will invest more than $15 million in shooting-facilities construction, upgrades and endowment in a sponsorship deal with USA Shooting, along with cash support and in-kind contributions. Starting this year, USA Shooting will relocate three major competitions and some team training camps to the college, and has agreed that Hillsdale can call itself the home of the U.S. national shooting team.
Together, the two groups form a powerful voice in a cause they both hold dear: backing the rights of gun owners.
“We believe in developing not just world-class athletes but also world-class citizens that are going to be supporters of the broader shooting sports and our Second Amendment rights going forward,” said Matt Suggs, USA Shooting’s chief executive.
The partnership is an unusually overt statement of purpose in the Olympic world, which portrays itself as standing apart from politics. For example, Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter says, “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”
Asked about the partnership, a spokesman for the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee said it values diversity, equity and inclusion.
The deal launched in 2019 and was extended to 10 years late last year. It’s a significant boost for a midsize sports governing body like USA Shooting, which has a $6.5 million annual budget.
Rich Péwé, Hillsdale’s chief administrative officer, declined to say how much the school will pay the group as part of the deal. But Suggs said the total benefit to USA Shooting, including housing of the national team when it visits the college, is about $250,000 annually.
Hillsdale also is spending more than $8 million on a facility set to open June 1 that, upon its opening, will be “the best shotgun range in the Western Hemisphere,” Suggs said. The school is fundraising millions more to build a rifle and pistol range. This year, the college will host the Junior Olympic national championships for rifle and shotgun, and the USA Shooting national championships for shotgun.
Péwé said the partnership is a natural on a campus that already features shooting sports. Through the agreement, Hillsdale will generate revenue from visitors to the college in the form of lodging and catering along with on-site sales of ammunition, which can be considerable since many competitors can’t legally travel with it. The partnership includes a licensing deal that has already spawned a joint apparel line called Raise the Flag.
“We love the idea of someone working a lifetime to be great at something and we can be a part of that,” Péwé said. “We can kind of be a classroom education center and a shooting-sports center at the same time—and support the Second Amendment along the way. Obviously both USA Shooting and Hillsdale College care about that.”
Hillsdale refuses government support, including in the form of student grants or loans. Last summer, the college was one of the few in Michigan to host in-person commencement exercises during the pandemic, which it says it did with health-expert consultation and under the protection of the First Amendment.
The school’s online mission statement opposes what it calls the “dehumanizing, discriminatory trend of so-called ‘social justice’ and ‘multicultural diversity’ which judges individuals not as individuals, but as members of a group and which pits one group against other competing groups in divisive power struggles.”
Hillsdale president Larry P. Arnn was chair of the 1776 Commission, formed in November by then-President Donald Trump to help restore “patriotic education,” Trump said in a September speech, saying it had eroded due to “decades of left-wing indoctrination in our schools.” President Joe Biden disbanded the commission but its report remains available on Hillsdale College’s site.
Suggs noted that although some Olympic and Paralympic sport governing bodies have formed alliances with universities, he hasn’t heard of a college partnering with a governing body to design a world-class facility. Venue closures during the pandemic and other challenges have made the partnership with Hillsdale more important than ever, Suggs said.
“At USA Shooting, we don’t like to talk about gun control,” he said. “But the reality is that the gun-control lobby, despite their claims, still targets competitive shooters and their activities.”
Suggs pointed to an ongoing lawsuit in which the lead plaintiff is Kim Rhode, who won medals in the past six Olympic Games for the U.S. and is an alternate on the team heading to the Tokyo Games in July. Rhode and several co-plaintiffs are suing the state of California’s attorney general for laws that took effect in 2019 prohibiting importation of ammunition from outside California and requiring background checks for ammunition purchase.
Rhode’s side won a preliminary injunction last year in which a judge said the laws burden the Second Amendment rights of citizens and discriminate against interstate commerce in violation of a clause in the Constitution.
An appeals court granted a stay of that decision, and the sides are trading briefs in an appellate court.
Olympic shooting includes rifle, pistol and shotgun disciplines, and will feature 15 medal events in the Tokyo Games. The U.S. has won nearly twice as many Olympic shooting medals all-time as second-place China, but competition from countries around the world is rising.
Help and support Hillsdale College in their efforts to protect the Second Amendment by donating here.
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