Target Pistol Shooting, as a sport, is as old as pistols themselves – some 500 years old in fact. The sport started in Europe, as a necessary adjunct to the use of the pistol in war. When not involved in fighting, pistoleers would practice constantly with their weapons to attain speed and accuracy – necessary qualities when fighting.
At some stage, some bright (or bored) spark had the idea of challenging another to a test of marksmanship for a prize, probably of money, and they indulged in a competition to see who could achieve a shot nearest to a selected mark, and so target pistol shooting, as a sport, had its first beginnings.
ISSF style target pistol shootiing first started in Australia in Tasmania in 1928, and its spread was very slow, because of the very restrictive nature of the laws governing the possession and use of pistols by civilians. With the awarding of the 1956 Olympics to Melbourne, it became necessary, firstly, for that city to create facilities for the pistol shooting events which had to be conducted and secondly for the State to implement laws permitting the use of pistols for target shooting purposes so that an Australian Team could compete and overseas competitors could bring their pistols into the country.
The sport of pistol shooting, as a sport which could be participated in by ordinary Australians, started, effectively, with the Melbourne Olympics. It is now an Australia-wide sport and attracts people from all walks of life, both sexes, juniors and people with disabilities. Australian women are the only Australian pistol shooters who have won medals at the Olympics. They have performed superbly for their country.
The following is an article I wrote about the sport of ISSF Target Shooting and which I forwarded to newspapers. TV channels and politicians Australia wide in the hope that they might be able to educate themselves aboiut the sport and perhaps make decisions in future, about the sport and its continuing survival, which are based on rationalism and objectivity and not on attitudes which are more appropriate to the Dark Ages:
A True and Gentle Sport
There has been so much adverse publicity and so much disinformation about target pistol shooting, that the average Australian is likely to view the sport as being highly dangerous and practised by people who are a major threat to community safety. The reality is the exact opposite of this.
This article is about International Target Pistol Shooting of the type conducted at the Olympic and Commonwealth Games. This is a very “purist” form of target shooting, very refined, very demanding and concerned only with absolute precision. It is controlled by the International Shooting Sports Federation (ISSF), the International body based in Switzerland. The facts and opinions contained herein apply to this type of shooting only, as the author is not qualified to comment on other branches of the sport. However it is understood that things are pretty much the same for other branches of the pistol sports.
Firstly, to dispel some of the myths and mistruths about this sport.
Myth 1: Target Pistol Shooting is a dangerous sport.
Fact: From the time that target pistol shooting first started in Australia in 1928, there has not been a single case of a person being injured or killed as a result of owning or using a target pistol. Almost every other sport played or practised in Australia, however, has had its share of deaths and injuries caused by participation in that sport.
Myth 2: Target Pistol shooters are dangerous people who only practice the sport to become good at killing.
Fact: A typical piece of anti-gun propaganda. No ISSF target pistol shooter has ever committed a crime of any sort using his/her pistols. For the record, the Monash University shooter was NOT an ISSF shooter. ISSF pistol shooters are amongst the most stable, most balanced and most disciplined sports people in Australia. Pistol shooters are interested in this sport in the same way golfers are interested in theirs. Anti-gun/Gun Control organisations will be disappointed to learn that pistol clubs are not training establishments for Murder Incorporated.
Myth 3: It is too easy to get hold of a pistol.
Fact: Getting a pistol licence and subsequently obtaining a pistol of any sort, legally, is a lengthy process, involving a detailed investigation, by the Police, of the person concerned, his/her background, and their suitability as a fit and proper person to own and use a concealable firearm. Anyone who thinks this is a quick and easy process is invited to try it for themselves. Getting hold of an illegal pistol on the black market is another matter entirely and has nothing to do with legal pistol shooters or the sport.
Myth 4: Pistols are designed solely to kill people and are more dangerous than rifles and shotguns
Fact: ISSF type pistols are designed specifically for target shooting using relatively low velocity ammunition. The pistols are large and bulky, barely concealable and are useless for any purpose other than target shooting. Rifles and shotguns are vastly more lethal than target pistols and are easily converted to a concealable form. ISSF pistols are not and never have been, guns made for killing.
This is a target pistol:
Swiss Hammerli 160 Special 50 M .22 cal. Match Pistol
This is a pistol designed for shooting people:
Glock Mod 35 .40 calibre
Even this distinction between pistol types and their purpose is not as simple as it appears. Some of the non-ISSF pistol sports involve using pistols similar to the Glock but so heavily modified for target shooting, that they, too, become virtually useless for any other purpose. The real key to understanding this issue is to realise that it is not the instrument that is the cause of trouble, but rather, the motivation and intention of the user. Guns have no conscience, no feelings, no capacity for self action. Only people have these qualities and only people use guns for good or for ill, depending on their motivation.
There is a great deal of nonsense written and spoken about this sport and it would take a book to refute all of the accusations leveled at pistol shooters by the anti-gun/gun control organisations in Australia and that is not the purpose of this article.
Target pistol shooting was one of the inaugural sports in the program of the first of the modern Olympics, held in 1896. Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, was also the French National Pistol Champion and so, not surprisingly, he included the sport of target pistol shooting in the Olympic program and there it has remained ever since.
At the Olympic level, there are five pistol disciplines. They are the Men’s 50 Metre Pistol Match (Free Pistol), Men’s 25 Metre Rapid Fire, Men’s 10 Metre Air Pistol, Women’s 10 Metre Air Pistol and Women’s 25 Metre Sports Pistol. At Commonwealth Games and World Cup/World Championships, the additional disciplines of 25 Metre Centre Fire and 25 Metre Standard Pistol are included. The pistols used range from: .177 calibre single shot air pistols, .22 calibre single shot match pistols, through to 5 shot semi-automatics, in .22 calibre and 5 shot semi-automatics and revolvers in .32 or .38 calibre. These are all specialist target pistols designed to meet the demands of the particular matches for which they are used.
It is important, too, for people to understand that the targets used by ISSF pistol shooters are round bullseye targets, which are divided, usually, into 10 scoring rings. No man-shaped targets are used.
The matches shot by ISSF shooters cover a range of shooting skills varying from the demanding precision of the 50 Metre Pistol Match, which is shot with a highly refined, single shot, .22 calibre match pistol, through to the excitement and fast pace of the 25 Metre Olympic Rapid Fire Match, which combines precision with fast shooting in very short time limits on a bank of five targets. The montage shows the type of pistols and the various targets used in this sport:
ISSF Targets and Pistols
Olympic Rapid Fire Match at Atlanta Olympics
ISSF target shooting appeals to those people who enjoy the challenge of a difficult yet rewarding sport which demands great self-control and concentration in the pursuit of precision for its own sake. The sport attracts people from a broad spectrum of the community, including doctors, teachers, lawyers, QCs, accountants, politicians, business owners, tradespeople, police, soldiers, clerks, shop assistants and housepeople. It is a particularly appealing sport for women who quickly learn that they can compete on equal terms with men and win. In fact all of Australia’s pistol shooting medals at the Olympic Games have been won by women shooters.
The sport is very family friendly. Children, once they reach 12 years of age, are able to be licensed to shoot, and are permitted to compete at a club, under supervision, using club pistols or those belonging to their parents. They cannot purchase their own pistols until they turn 18. All clubs run excellent junior programs and Pistol Australia, the governing body of ISSF Target Pistol Shooting in Australia, has a very effective youth program which has as its aim, the development of our young shooters to Olympic level. Youngsters who practise this sport learn self- discipline, self-control, responsibility, dedication and a sense of fair play, and visitors to the sport often comment on the excellent demeanor and behaviour of our young shooters.
Criticism is often unfairly levelled at the target shooting sports for introducing children to the “gun culture” (whatever that means) as though this was something dark and dangerous. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is no “gun culture” per se, except in the fevered imaginations of some very obsessed anti-gun people. Target shooting is a sport. The lessons young people learn in the shooting sports are the same as those learnt by youngsters in sports such as cricket, but without the aggression involved in most other sports. Shooters are sports people, nothing more and certainly, nothing less. ISSF shooting conforms to the very highest of the sporting ideals and participants are proud to affirm their involvement in this most demanding of sports. The sport and its participants are completely non-violent and non-aggressive.
ISSF pistol shooting also has great appeal for those people who suffer from a wide range of disabilities including those who are wheelchair bound, and amputees. There is virtually no upper age limit for the sport and many elderly shooters are still capable of winning trophies at high level competitions Australia wide. There is no discrimination of any kind in this sport, except that relating to mental stability and criminality. Newcomers learn basic techniques and safety from the first moment they come to a club. ISSF pistol club safety records attest to the effectiveness of this training. Our coaches are highly experienced shooters who can lead a newcomer from the beginner stages of the sport right through to Olympic level. Our more experienced shooters expend thousands of rounds of ammunition to maintain and improve their performance.
Disabled Shooters Competing at The Sydney International Shooting Complex
The greatest obstacles confronting the sport currently, are public ignorance, due to lack of familiarity with the sport; political expediency, by which legitimate target pistol shooters face increasing restrictions, to give the impression that something is being done about the misuse of guns in our community, when, in fact, it isn’t; and the deliberate spreading of disinformation about the legitimate use of pistols in sports, to further the agenda of certain extremist anti-gun/gun control organizations, who would like to see the sport banned completely in Australia for reasons of which only they are aware. These organisations rely on generating unreasonable fear amongst a generally ignorant public, and using whatever methods they deem necessary to demonise and vilify the shooting sports and the people who participate in them.
A very clear example of the unscrupulous tactics being used by the anti-gun/gun control organisations, and some political parties, is their current campaign to have semi-automatic pistols and revolvers confiscated from the target sports shooters who use them in their matches, and to have these types of pistols banned completely from legal possession. Their position is that since semi-automatic rifles were banned following Port Arthur, so semi-automatic pistols and revolvers should be banned as well. Contrary to what most people think, semi-automatic rifles are still available to those people who can demonstrate a need for them, to the authorities. Therefore it should be evident that since virtually all pistols are semi-automatics or revolvers and are necessary for the practice of most of the International target matches, a demonstrated need for their lawful possession already exists.
The anti-gun/gun control organisations also fail (deliberately?) to take into account the fact that although semi-automatic rifles are not generally available to the public, rifle shooters are still able to have access to magazine-fed lever action, bolt action and pump action rifles which are nearly as effective as semi-automatics. There is no such equivalent type of pistol manufactured anywhere. It would be totally impracticable. The anti-gun/gun control organisations believe that only single shot pistols should be permitted for target shooting. This would destroy the majority of the Olympic and Commonwealth Games pistol matches – a fact that these organisations are well aware of and which would virtually ensure that their goal of a total ban on handguns is achieved.
These organisations know very little about the shooting sports in general and the pistol shooting sports in particular, yet they seem to have an enormous influence on policy makers and public opinion by using simplistic slogans, manufactured outrage, lies, misrepresentations and distortions. They should be subjected to the same degree of scrutiny that the shooting sports operate under and they should be challenged to substantiate the wild and often deliberately false statements that they make to the various news media.
This sport will survive, short of an outright ban by politicians, because it has demonstrated that it is the safest sport in Australia, that it has great appeal to a wide range of people within the community and because it encompasses all of the highest ideals of sport and sportsmanship. This is a gentle and elegant sport with a long and honorable history and it is practiced by people who are considered by the authorities to be amongst the most stable, trustworthy, responsible and well-balanced people in the community. Our members have earned the right to the respect and understanding of the community as a whole and it is hoped that this article may go some way towards dispelling the uninformed opinions that exist about the sport.
The best way for people to learn about the sport, is to visit one of the pistol clubs in their local area. The Clubs have nothing to hide and visitors are made most welcome. Providing a visitor is of good character and has no criminal convictions or mental health problems, they will be able to try their hand at the sport, under club supervision.
International Air Pistol Competition at Bern, Switzerland
In the 18th and 19th centuries, as pistols became more sophisticated, they were adopted by duellists, instead of swords, although swords continued to be used for this purpose right through to the 20th century. The popularity of a pistol for this dangerous and often lethal activity, lay in the fact that a pistol was relatively easy to master and virtually anyone who could afford pistols, could become a proficient marksman in a fairly short period of time, whereas becoming an effective swordsman took years of practice and not a little intrinsic talent.
By the late 19th centruy, the concept of excellence in marksmanship for its own sake became established as a sporting ideal and contests were held to determine the best marksman in a town, city, county or country. The prizes for the winners of these competitions had become trophies or medallions, but the real prize was the widespread prestige that was bestowed on the winners of these contests.
It is hardly surprising that Europe took the lead in the development of the marksmanship sports into an art form. Even today, in almost every country in Europe, shooting contests with pistols, rifles and shotguns are highly regarded sports which attract a huge following.
Today, the sport of target pistol shooting is a world-wide phenomenon in almost every country of the world. It is now a highly refined sport which is governed by the International Shooting Sports Federation (ISSF) based in Switzerland. There are pistol shooting events at the Olympic and Commonwealth Games. In fact, pistol shooting was one of the inaugural sports of the modern Olympics, which began in 1896. Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the “father” of the modern Olympics, was the French National pistol champion and so, not surprisingly, he included pistol shooting in the new Olympic program and there it has remained ever since.
The type of shooting events conducted at the Olympic and Commonwealth Games are now referred to as the ISSF target pistol sports. At the Olympics, the following pistol events are conducted:
The 50 Metre Match (Free Pistol Match); the Rapid Fire Match; Women’s Sports Pistol Match; Women’s Air Pistol Match and Men’s Air Pistol Match.
At the Commonwealth Games, the Olympic matches are conducted as well as the following two matches:
The International Centre Fire Match; The Standard Pistol Match
A description of each of these matches can be found on the web page titled “The Pistol Matches”