'It's a lifestyle' - Teens at Florida shooting club defend guns
SUNRISE, Fla., Feb 27 (Reuters) - Reanna Frauens, a lifelong gun enthusiast and a proud member of the Markham Skeet, Trap & Sporting Clays Club, is about the same age as many of the 17 victims killed by a shooter with an assault rifle at a Florida high school about a dozen miles away.
But unlike many of the survivors of the massacre, the 16-year-old sees a nascent, student-led campaign for tighter gun controls as a threat to her rights under the U.S. Constitution.
"It's a horrible tragedy, but when people start promoting gun control, I am taken aback a little bit because it's a sport, it's a lifestyle, and a lot of people don't realize that," said Frauens, a member of the National Rifle Association (NRA), the politically powerful gun-rights advocacy group.
Her concerns, similar to those voiced by other teens at the club in Sunrise, Florida, are a vivid counterpoint to the views of students who have been lobbying state and federal lawmakers for tighter restrictions on gun ownership.
"We have a tradition of hunting in my family, and to hear that people want to take it away and put many restrictions on it sounds unrealistic," said Frauens, who saw any attempt to ban the kind of AR-15 semi-automatic rifle used in the school shooting as an infringement upon her Second Amendment right to bear arms.
The NRA Foundation, the organization’s charitable arm, has long relied on grants for shooting-related programs to build support among new generations of Americans.
A big slice of the more than $335 million it allocated to shooting programs since 1990 went to youth groups ranging from Boy Scout troops to school clubs. Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old accused of the killings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, belonged to one of those clubs before he was expelled from the school.
The young Florida gun enthusiasts suggest it may be premature to forecast a victory for the student-led movement in turning the tide on the gun debate in America.
Polls show that previous schools shootings over the last two decades failed to make younger Americans significantly more in favor of gun control than their parents or grandparents.
Attitudes toward gun control appear to have strong correlation with political affiliation and whether a person lived in a household with a firearm, not with age, said Juliana Horowitz, director of research at the Pew Research Center.
"At least with the current 18 to 29 year olds, we don’t see a difference in their views compared with older Americans," said Horowitz, while conceding that things could change with the next generation.
The Parkland students are attempting to break a nearly decade-old stalemate in which the proportion of Americans backing gun control, over protecting gun rights, has not budged from around 50 percent, according to Pew data.
That said, a poll on Friday by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, nine days after Parkland, found three-quarters of Americans believed the students would have some impact on gun reform. And 85 percent said a candidate's views on gun ownership would influence their votes in November's midterm elections.
Emma Gonzalez, one of the Parkland students who formed the #NeverAgain gun control movement, surpassed one million followers on Twitter on Monday, twice as many as the NRA has.
In the current atmosphere, many of the Markham club members feel like pariahs. They consider themselves to be responsible gun owners, unfairly associated with the Parkland shooting.
Down at the range, Damien Creller said he has been reluctant to discuss his hobby with school friends since the massacre. "People like to point fingers," said the 12-year-old.
Still, many club members said they supported some of the proposals backed by the Parkland student leaders, including raising the minimum age to buy rifles and measures to prevent mentally unstable people from owning guns.
At the same time, they were suspicious, fearing the end game of the students is an outright ban on AR-15 style rifles, a proposal they adamantly oppose.
"You have to either ban all guns or none of them at all," said Michael Pilch, 18, who has shot at the club for the past four years. "If you don't ban all of them, people are still going to have them and they’re going to use them." (Reporting by Zachary Fagenson; additional reporting by Jonathan Allen and Andrew Hay; Editing by Grant McCool)