By Michael S. Rosenwald / Washington Post / March 15, 2015
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. In between completing problem sets, writing code, organizing hackathons, worrying about internships and building solar cars, a group of MIT students make their way to the athletic center, where they stand side-by-side, load their guns and fire away. … Before arriving at MIT, nearly all of them had never touched a gun or even seen one that wasn’t on TV. …
MIT’s pistol and rifle teams, which, like other college shooting teams, has benefited from the largesse of gun industry money and become so popular that they often turn students away. Teams are thriving at a diverse range of schools: Yale, Harvard, the University of Maryland, George Mason University, and even smaller schools such as Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania and Connors State College in Oklahoma.
“We literally have way more students interested than we can handle,” said Steve Goldstein, one of MIT’s pistol coaches.
While some collegiate teams date to the late 1800s, coaches and team captains say there is a surge of new interest from students, both male and female, finally away from their parents and curious to handle one of the country’s most divisive symbols. Once they fire a gun, students say they find shooting relaxing at MIT, students call it “very Zen” and that it teaches focusing skills that help in class.
Some also find their perceptions about guns changing.
“I had a poor view, a more negative view of people who like guns than I do now,” said Hope Lutwak, a freshman on MIT’s pistol team. “I didn’t understand why people enjoyed it. I just thought it was very violent.”
And that’s precisely what the gun industry hoped it would hear after spending the last few years pouring millions of dollars into collegiate shooting, targeting young adults just as they try out new activities and personal identities.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a powerful firearms lobbying group, has awarded more than $1 million in grants since 2009 to start about 80 new programs. A couple who owns a large firearms accessories company founded the MidwayUSA Foundation, funding it with nearly $100 million to help youth and college programs, including MIT. The National Rifle Association organizes pistol and rifle tournaments, including the national championships next weekend in Fort Benning, Georgia.
Though industry groups distribute booklets to students counseling them on how to start programs and deal with reluctant administrators or communities tips: write letters to the editor in the school paper and sponsor bake sales officials say the teams haven’t generated as much pushback as they expected. Shooting is even publicized as a recruiting and teaching tool.
is a varsity sport, competing in NCAA-managed matches with funding from the athletic department. The pistol team is a club sport, meaning it must get its funding elsewhere. For that, it relies heavily on the MidwayUSA Foundation, which sets up an account for each school that alumni or others donate to. The foundation then matches donations and invests the money. Teams can draw 5 percent of their funds each year. The pistol team’s account balance is more than $363,000.