After Dayton and El Paso: guns must get out of the Games

I was born and grew up in Dayton, Ohio, where nine people were killed and more than two dozen hurt when a gunman with a military-style weapon opened fire over the weekend at a bar.

That attack came just hours after a gunman with an assault weapon killed 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas.

That’s 31 people killed in a space of 13 hours — 31 innocent lives, their hopes and dreams gone forever — because of gun violence.

This has to stop. 

Shooting needs to be off the Olympic program. The guns need to go.

A memorial in Dayton after the weekend shooting // Getty Images

A memorial in Dayton after the weekend shooting // Getty Images

Police marked evidence at the scene, a bar called Ned Peppers // Getty Images

Police marked evidence at the scene, a bar called Ned Peppers // Getty Images

This is not a column about the Second Amendment. This space recognizes that the law, history, tradition and culture of the American experience all combine to allow for responsible gun ownership. No quarrel there. None.

That said, the time has come — it is long past due — for people of good will to exercise appropriate moral leadership to do what must be done to make it plain that military-style weapons do not belong in the hands of people for whom they were never intended. 

Again, this is about values, and symbolism, and it is here that the Olympic authorities can take the lead — worldwide, not just in the United States — in exercising appropriate moral and symbolic leadership to do as much as possible to keep certain weapons away from those people who wish to kill as many people as violently as possible as quickly as possible.

Young people — here in the United States after Parkland, in particular — have made it clear that they want their elders to take action. They — and their families — are 100 percent reasonable in demanding that they feel safe where they go, whether it’s school or a music festival or wherever. The International Olympic Committee’s key audience is young people. This is a natural fit. 

As it turns out, one of the greatest of Olympic champions is from Dayton, Edwin Moses, the 400-meter hurdler, gold medalist at the 1976 and 1984 Games, winner of 122 straight races over nine years. He is a 1973 graduate of Dayton’s Fairview High School. My mother went there, too. (I am a 1976 graduate of Northmont High.)

Moses said in a statement, “The destructive potential of these military assault weapons, as we have seen this weekend, have no practical use in our cities, except for the taking of our fellow citizens’ lives. After seeing what transpired in El Paso, who the hell would have thought that the Oregon District,” the trendy bar and restaurant area near Dayton’s downtown where the shootings occurred, “would be the next stop on the transcontinental express to murder and mayhem. We as citizens have the right to good-sense legislation concerning gun violence.”

In an emailed note accompanying the statement, Moses also said, “God bless our beloved city. My hope is that we can become a model,” a community called to action “to stop this death and madness.”

Mike Turner, the Republican who represents Dayton in Congress, has a 93 percent rating from the National Rifle Association and in February voted against a House-passed bill to expand background checks for firearms. His daughter and a family friend were at a bar across the street from where the shooting began.

This week, he released a statement announcing his support for stopping the sale of assault weapons to civilians, limiting the size of magazines and enacting laws to bar firearms from anyone considered an imminent threat to themselves or others.

He said, “The carnage these military-style weapons are able to produce when available to the wrong people is intolerable,” adding later, “This tragedy must become a catalyst for a broader national conversation about what we can do to stop these mass shootings.”

Not just national.

If this were only an American problem, perhaps the easy out for the IOC would be to say, American authorities, this is your challenge.

But gun violence is everyone’s problem.

In March, an attack at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killed 51 people and wounded 49. After that, this space urged the IOC: no more guns at the Games.

In Paris in November 2015, 90 were shot to death at the Bataclan theater and suicide bombers struck at the Stade de France, which will be the centerpiece of the 2024 Summer Games.

In 2011, the Norwegian extremist Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people in a rifle and bomb rampage. 

This sort of list could go on and on.

To reiterate what the IOC president, Thomas Bach, has said in assessing the propriety of esports for the Games: “We cannot have in the Olympic program a game which is promoting violence or discrimination, so-called ‘killer games.’ They, from our point of view, are contradictory to the Olympic values and cannot therefore be accepted.”

What makes the IOC different from other sports entities is that it purports to be about values. 

There’s no value in promoting shooting. It’s inherently life-threatening, not life-affirming. Indeed, the symbolism in pointing and using a gun stands in direct contrast to everything the Olympics — for that matter, the Olympic truce — is about. 

One more thing: gun use is environmentally not sustainable, and sustainability is now a key Olympic driver.

Proponents like to say that those people you meet at the gun range can be the best sorts of sportsmen and women. 

Indeed, after my March column after the Christchurch massacre suggesting that shooting must get the boot from the Games, USA Shooting predictably slammed me and said, “For our athletes, for our club members, and for our parents, a gun is the piece of equipment needed for our sport, no different than what Serena’s tennis racket is for her to compete in tennis. And with that equipment, what comes from the use of it? Unbelievable discipline, fun and opportunity. It’s nothing more than the tool used in pursuit of a dream.”

There are countless ways to learn “unbelievable discipline,” to experience “fun and opportunity” without a gun in your hands. 

Plus, let’s be obvious. If I point a tennis racket at someone and say, bang, that person is still standing there. If I point a loaded gun at someone and pull the trigger, big difference. Guns are not safe.

This is the core problem. The Olympics should not be a vehicle for promoting gun use.

The Olympics is about celebrating the best of us. Who wants to argue that gun use is that?

Plain and simple, featuring shooting at the Games doesn’t just normalize the use of guns, it celebrates them. And there’s a direct line between those firearms in the shooting competitions at the Games (pistol, rifle, shotgun) and military-style assault weapons. They’re all just guns. Those involved with shooting at the Games would know and understand the difference; police officers and soldiers, too; some number of reporters and editors who cover crime and the courts, and a collection of others with an interest; but for the overwhelming majority of people, guns are guns are guns. Most people can’t tell you the difference between a pistol and a revolver, much less a rifle or a shotgun, much less explain what it is that makes an assault weapon so deadly. 

And that’s the fundamental disconnect with having shooting in the Olympics.

Yes, shooting has been on the Olympic program since 1896. But times change. In our 21st-century world, the way we think about guns needs to change. Too many people keep dying. 

If there is a place for shooting as a “sport,” let it be like karate or squash or any of dozen other enterprises. Have regional, continental, even world championships. 

In the meantime:

Get guns out of the Olympics. As soon as possible.