TOM SELLECK: Magnum P.I. with a sporting shotgun

June 9, 2009

Photo courtesy of Tom Selleck PR agency. Image used with permission

Photo courtesy of Tom Selleck's PR agency. Image used with permission

By Roni Toldanes

Tom Selleck still remembers the shotgun; its brand and gauge. But he would­n’t tell anybody anything else. When Selleck was a young boy, his father used a shotgun to demonstrate important lessons on gun safety. Yet when reporters recently asked the actor what type of shotgun it was, he politely declined to provide details, saying; “That’s something I’d like to keep between Dad and me.”

Mutual love of guns apparently tight­ened Selleck’s close bond with his father, Robert, a real-estate investor. This can be gleaned from his answers to sensi­tive questions. Asked on a TV talk show about what he would rescue first if his house were burning down and his family were safe, Selleck replied, “The shotgun my father gave me.”

At 6 feet 4 inches, with his familiar chiseled face, deep dimples that come with his frequent smiles and raven-­black hair, Selleck is still recognized in public as the star of the ’80s television drama Magnum, P.I., the private inves­tigator and Vietnam veteran who looks good in khaki shorts and Hawaiian shirts. In the past few years, Tom Sel­leck is back in the limelight, portray­ing other TV and movie characters, and taking a new role as a hero for America’s responsible gun owners.

In October 1997, Selleck hosted the grand opening of a Sporting Clays course through a Ducks Unlimited fundraiser tournament in Lanai, one of the smallest of the Hawaiian islands. Just about everyone of the 80 com­petitors had a chance to chat with the star. As affable and easygoing as his TV character Thomas Magnum, Sel­leck graciously posed for pictures and talked briefly about his experiences in the shooting sports and his feelings about gun politics.

Selleck, 53, described Sporting Clays as a very relaxing and family-oriented activity. He said he knew of many celebrities who participate with “bor­rowed” guns at the Charlton Heston shooting tournaments and other charity events. They have a great time but aren’t willing to stand up and be recognized like Heston because of the negative ramifications to their entertainment careers. Many are also concerned about being misquoted.

Having eight years and an Emmy behind him as the star of Magnum, PI., Selleck has also often been       misquoted and mis­represented. In 1996, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd reported that Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger were trying to persuade Selleck to chal­lenge Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). Sell­eck denied the story, saying Dowd should have done a better job of investigating. “There’s no truth to it,” said Selleck. “She was just dead wrong, and she ought to be ashamed of herself.”

In his public appearances, Selleck, a reg­istered independent with libertarian lean­ings, has not exactly described himself as apolitical. “I’m not politically active. I’m politically-minded.” Translation? He has appeared on Nightline, The McLaughlin Group, and Larry King. He has attended the White House correspondents’ dinner the last few years, smoking cigars and looking quite at home.

Selleck, with his masculine and sweet image, has been compared to other popu­lar presidents. But Selleck shrugs off those comparisons, saying he resigned in disgrace from his only elected office — president of his ninth-grade class — because of poor grades. “For the record, I have never in my life had a  serious conversation about run­ning for public office,” Selleck said in a press statement.

But rumors that Selleck has political ambitions have been cropping up for years. His role as a gay TV newsman in the film In and Out didn’t help quell those rumors. Some movie columnists asserted that his scene-stealing lip lock with co-star Kevin Kline was a bid to woo gay voters. Selleck again dismissed those speculations. “I don’t want what the movie says about honesty and intolerance to get lost in some goofy little kiss,” he said.

That kissing scene, which shocked many Magnum P.I. fans, including the police­man who held traffic while Kline and Sel­leck gave each other a smooch, was in fact Selleck’s way of preparing himself for real comedy. His roles in his past films can be classified as “romantic comedy.”

Several years ago, Selleck fielded a ques­tion about whether he believed he could graduate from television to film. “At the time, I’d done four films,” he said, “three of which had made quite a lot of money, and Three Men and a Baby had been the No. 1 movie in the world. I thought then, ‘Oh, this is going to be with me for a long time.”’

But with his CBS sitcom, The Closer, Selleck got to test his comedic talent. He played Jack McLaren, once a red hot adver­tising executive with a legendary ability to close the deal who suddenly found himself jobless, facing divorce and at odds with his teenage daughter.

In the years since Magnum P.I., the cigar­smoking rancher has been striving to be considered for less conventional roles. It hasn’t come easily. He has made some less than critically acclaimed films, including Christopher Columbus: The Discovery, where he portrayed King Ferdinand; Folks, and Mr. Baseball, all in 1992.

Despite his shrewd ability to perform any role, Selleck has never felt bigger than life. He remains humble and unpreten­tious. “I’ve always had trouble with the sex-symbol thing, but it doesn’t necessar­ily mean better work, and it isn’t better for your life,” he says. “You’ll lose more jobs than you’ll get, and you’ll lose some of the most interesting ones.”

Because of Selleck’s amiable personality, many influential Hollywood executives continue to support him. In and Out exec­utive producer Adam Schroeder says Sel­leck easily fits any character: “There is something about Tom that is almost a throwback to old Hollywood. He’s like Clark Gable, Cary Grant and Jimmy Stew­art. He has … sophistication and innate charm.”

Though it may surprise his Magnum fans, Selleck has always felt more at home in comedy than drama. Persuading others to see him that way has been a tough bat­tle he has waged for years, in part because of his action-star looks.selleck2

Initially, Tom Selleck turned down the Magnum series even though he was a con­tract player, nearing 35, who had never had a steady paycheck in the business and had absolutely no leverage. “I needed the job desperately, but I said no,” Selleck recalls. “It was this very perfect guy who owned a Ferrari, who had fabulous babes all over this estate. I said, ‘I’m not doing this guy; I don’t like him.’ ”

He was under contract to Universal Stu­dios at the time and was threatened with a lawsuit, but Selleck stuck to his position until the part was rewritten to create the flawed character of Thomas Magnum.

Away from klieg lights and cameras, Selleck has also taken a new role that is tailor-made for his appeal. By actively par­ticipating in fundraiser shooting tourna­ments, he hopes to put a stop to the “demo­nizing” of gunowners in America. “There are 70 million legal guns in this country,” Selleck says, “most of which are owned by people who aren’t felons, who don’t do drugs, et cetera.”

Those who’ve shot a tournament with Selleck describe him as very friendly and charming. He was funny and he looked like Magnum P.I. without being cocky about it.

World English Sporting Clays champion Linda Joy, who was on the same squad with Selleck at a recent tournament, says the actor “was an easy-going and likeable man. He was a pretty good shot and he didn’t flaunt his celebrity status.”

Sandy Abrams, organizer of the Holly­wood Celebrity Shoot, also recalls seeing the actor disembark from a helicopter on his way to a shooting tournament. “Selleck must have had 20 to 30 guns with him (on board the helicopter),” Abrams says. “He took down a gun case and pulled out a shotgun that must be worth more than the car you drive.”

Michael Shea, Fiocchi’s director of ammu­nition sales, confirms Selleck’s love affair with museum-quality shotguns. In one shooting tournament, Shea was on the same squad with Selleck, who shot the match with a gold-inlayed Beretta S05 shotgun “worth at least $20,000.” The actor also brought with him a Colt .45 semi-auto with pearl grips.

“What probably impressed me most was when I found out that Tom Selleck was really a nice guy,” Shea says. “He was not like some of the Hollywood guys who will just blow you off. He is really down-­to-earth. ”

For many of his new shooting buddies, Tom Selleck is still Magnum Pl., with a good heart, with neatly-trimmed mustache, without the Ferrari.

He is Thomas Magnum with a hand­some sporting shotgun.

(Roni Toldanes was managing editor of Gun World, the oldest firearms magazine in the United States; group managing editor of Knives Illustrated, and editor of Gun Games, America’s shooting sports magazine. He also worked as editor-in-chief of weekly newspapers; news editor, senior copy editor, assignment editor and editorial board member of major daily newspapers in California, Texas, New Jersey, Florida and Georgia. He covered southeast Asia as a foreign correspondent and chief editor of an international news agency.)



June 9, 2009

celebrity shootBy RONI TOLDANES

It was a strange scene last October when more than 60 movie and TV personal­ities opened fire with shotguns and pis­tols. There were no directors. There were no stuntmen. And while in movies they flinched and grimaced as they pep­pered their targets with bullets, this time around they were smiling while shooting guns. Real guns loaded with real ammo.

America’s gun owners have unlikely new heroes of late. These new heroes belong to an industry some gun advocates blame for the negative public image of firearms – Hollywood.

Karate Kid star Martin Cove. Photo by Y.Sued

Karate Kid star Martin Cove. Photo by Y.Sued

Despite gusty winds roaring at 40 to 50 mph, gun-toting actors and actresses came out and joined about 250 other shooters in a newly-formed shooting tournament. It was called Hollywood Celebrity Shoot at the Angeles Shooting Range, just a few miles from Burbank, home to many major film studios.

The shooting match, involving the use of shotguns, center fire and rim­fire handguns, was organized by Sanford Abrams, and Catherine and T.J. Johnston. Having served as volunteers at the Charl­ton Heston Celebrity Shoot, which has been in limbo during the past two years, the trio decided to host their own tournament. It had a double-barreled goal: to promote the shooting sports and to counteract the scathing anti-gun propaganda from other celebrities, some of whom, incongruously, even portray gun slinging characters in action movies.

“Some celebrities are standing up and declaring that guns are evil,” Abrams says, “but there are many other celebrities who shoot and don’t see anything bad about owning guns.” The Hollywood Celebrity Shoot, Abrams says, aims to promote the positive aspects of gun ownership.

Frank McRae, who took supporting roles in almost 100 films and portrayed Arnold Schwarzenegger's boss in the movie Last Action Hero, talks about the "joy and thrill" one gets after transforming a clay target into a puff of smoke.

Frank McRae, who took supporting roles in almost 100 films and portrayed Arnold Schwarzenegger's boss in the movie Last Action Hero, talks about the "joy and thrill" one gets after transforming a clay target into a puff of smoke. Photo by Y.Sued

Abrams hopes that the crackle of gun­fire would resonate all the way to Wash­ington. He knows that lawmakers have begun to accept celebrities as powerful backers of public issues.

For decades, Washington has attracted famous activist actors such as Jane Fonda and Charlton Heston. But the city’s elite scoffed at the performers, urging them to tend to entertainment and let “real” politi­cians worry about the nation’s business. Over the past few years, however, this his­toric irritation has transformed into a reluc­tant appreciation of the power of celebrity. Why? Because lawmakers have finally real­ized that having a Hollywood luminary at a hearing may be the best way to get a cyn­ical public to tune in to their issue. A star’s endorsement can mean the difference between a bill that dies in committee and one that becomes a law.

Abrams says he intends to reproduce video­tapes of the match for distribution to influ­ential politicians. Copies will also be syndi­cated through major cable TV companies.

While some of the participants at the Hollywood Celebrity Shoot are not household names – yet, oth­ers have familiar faces. Most of them have been in dozens of films.

Sylvester Stallone wasn’t there, but his nemesis in some of his films shot the tournament. Does the name Charles Napier ring a bell? No? Well, how about Mur­doch, the bad guy in Rambo II? It was Napier, who also starred in Silence of the Lambs. Sly’s brother, Grammy Award winner Frank Stallone, was seen smiling as he pulverized his clay targets.

RoboCop himself didn’t come, but his police commander in the first series, Michael Gregory, who also starred in Total Recall and Eraser, traded jokes with colleagues and new friends as he waited for his turn at the Trap event, where shooters fired at two flying clay targets using shotguns.

Charles Napier, alias Murdoch in Rambo 2, shows why Rambo would really be in trouble with him in real life.

Charles Napier, alias Murdoch in Rambo 2, shows why Rambo would really be in trouble with him in real life.

“Each time you raise the gun to shoot at a clay bird there is always a challenge,” said Frank McRae, who played Arnold Schwarzenegger’s boss in the movie Last Action Hero and has appeared as a sup­porting actor in about 100 films. “Once you hit the clay, it transforms into a puff of smoke and you get such joy and thrill at knowing that you did something correct.”

McRae said the shooting sports lost its attractive cachet among Hollywood gun owners in the 1960s, especially following the JFK assassination. He said many celebrities still suf­fer the same sort of schizophrenia in their attitude toward the shooting sports. They use guns in their movies and they own guns, but they refuse to declare their pro-gun stance.

Celebrities on hand at this event, however, were not afraid to let the pub­lic know that they were having fun with guns. They include Martin Cove (Karate Kid), Dawn Wells (Gilligan’s Island), Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk), Leslie Easterbrook (Police Academy), Kim­berlin Brown (The Bold and the Beauti­ful), Branscombe Richmond (Renegade), Shari Shattuck (On Deadly Ground), Steve Henneberry (American Gladiators), Ron Mazak (Murder She Wrote), Roy Rogers, Jr. (The Roy Rogers Show), Andrew Prine (Chisum) and Erin Gray (Baywatch).

Gilligan’s Island star Dawn Wells

Gilligan’s Island star Dawn Wells

After an open-air dinner followed by the presentation of awards, all of the shoot­ers said the same thing as they headed to their cars in the parking lot. The chilly weather failed to dampen their enthusias­tic comments about the Hollywood Celebrity Shoot. And what they said was something you seldom hear from celebri­ties: “Great shooting match … Whew! I never thought I could have fun with a shot­gun! … Hey, that was some shooting match, wasn’t it? … ”


(Roni Toldanes was managing editor of Gun World, the oldest firearms magazine in the United States; group managing editor of Knives Illustrated, and editor of Gun Games, America’s shooting sports magazine. He also worked as editor-in-chief of weekly newspapers; news editor, senior copy editor, assignment editor and editorial board member of major daily newspapers in California, Texas, New Jersey, Florida and Georgia. He covered southeast Asia as a foreign correspondent and chief editor of an international news agency.)


June 9, 2009


By Roni Toldanes

Barbara Mandrell enjoys smoking clay targets. Photo courtesy of Barbara Madrell

Barbara Mandrell enjoys smoking clay targets. Photo courtesy of Barbara Madrell

During the interview, Barbara Mandrell abruptly stopped talking, drew a coffee mug to her lips and peered through the glass panel of the receiving room. Her eyes focused on a woodpecker visiting one of the bird feeders scattered around her log home near Nashville.

Then Mandrell resumed her story.

“I am not speaking against hunters because there are many of them who are very nice,” she said, “but I am not really the hunter type. I just enjoy smoking those clay targets.”

Mandrell was referring to her favorite sports – Sporting Clays and Skeet – where shooters fire at clay discs using shotguns.

“The feeling is so elating and wonderful whenever I break the targets,” Mandrell said, her Colorado-blue eyes betraying her excitement. “It’s such an incredible challenge.”

Mandrell’s bird feeders reflect the dreams she has fulfilled over a legendary 35-year professional career and a personal life marked by stability, close family ties and abiding loyalties. If dreams are fulfilled through musical accomplishments or material success, Mandrell has surpassed most fantasies.

During the ’70s, Mandrell released 21 singles, including her all-time bestseller, “Sleeping Single in a Double Bed.” As the decade ended, Mandrell became the first artist ever to win back-to-back Female Vocalist of the Year awards from the Academy of Country Music.

Mandrell’s star continued to glow in the ’80s, a decade that twice saw her named Entertainer of the Year by the Country Music Association. She also appeared on a weekly TV variety show with her younger sisters, Louise and Irlene. Nowadays, you can often see Mandrell doing TV commercials, with some guest appearances on popular TV shows.

Mandrell and her husband, Ken Dudney, were introduced to the shotgun sport several years ago by Hollywood legend Roy Rogers. Since then, the couple has actively participated in tournaments, including several fund-raising celebrity shoots organized by Mandrell’s sister Louise for the benefit of the Boy Scouts of America. Their oldest son, Matthew, is also active in the sport.

When Mandrell introduced her youngest son, Nathan, to Sporting Clays in 1996, she made sure that safety precautions are strictly observed. Nathan wasn’t allowed to handle guns without supervision from an adult shooter. For his 11th birthday, Nathan received his second shotgun, a 12-gauge Beretta 390, as a present from his parents.

“It brings joy when you see your young child act like a mature person because of his knowledge and safe handling of firearms,” said Mandrell, who shoots a Krieghoff shotgun.

For Barbara Mandrell, shooting is one of the best family recreation sports. “It’s fun. It’s exciting and it brings the family together,” she said. And unlike other male-dominate sports such as basketball and golf, shooting allows men to be on the same level of playing field as men. “There’s no reason women can’t beat men,” the petite 5-foot, 2-inch mother of three said.


Photo courtesy of Barbara Mandrell

Mandrell and her family live in a 27,000-sq.ft. log home in Gallatin, Tennessee. The home includes a helipad, 13 bathrooms and an indoor pistol shooting range. It’s big enough to be called a mansion. But Mandrell said it’s up for sale. Reason? She wants a smaller house with a bigger lot to build a Skeet and Sporting clays range in the backyard, where her family can share the beauty and excitement of the shooting sports with relatives and friends.

Barbara Mandrell’s sights are set on fulfilling that dream.

And she’s ready to pull the trigger.

The ‘lost world’ of Steven Spielberg

June 9, 2009

Photo courtesy of Steven Spielberg's PR agency. Image used with permission.


By Roni Toldanes

It’s impossible not to mention the fairy tale character Peter Pan when writ­ing about Steven Spielberg. After all, the lonely and precocious son of a broken home himself said in 1985, “I have always felt like Peter Pan. I still feel like Peter Pan.”

It was difficult for Spielberg to “grow up” — both as a man and as a filmmaker.

For 20 years, Spielberg had Hollywood’s most profound and profitable case of arrested development. Critics condescendingly regarded him as a child-man fixated on the toys of moviemaking and incapable of dealing maturely with the darker side of life. In many of his films, Spielberg indulged his boyish fondness for pulp adventure, infantile humor and special-effects fantasy extravaganzas.

But, in reality, Spielberg was misunder­stood. The fellow who makes movies every­one wants to see was simply not like every­one else. “People like Steven don’t come along every day,” says his friend and fre­quent collaborator George Lucas, “and when they do, it’s an amazing thing. It’s like talk­ing about Einstein or Babe Ruth or Tiger Woods. He’s not in a group of filmmakers his age; he’s far, far away.”

Still, one can ask how a half-century of living and nearly a quarter-century’s reign as the most successful moviemaker in his­tory affect the man who took out a patent on perennial childhood.

From the short feature film he made as a 13-year-old (Escape to Nowhere), through a string of blockbusters such as E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Empire of the Sun, Jaws and the con­tinuing adventures of Indiana Jones, Spiel­berg has explored primeval fears, expressed children’s loneliness and tested their inno­cence. Even his version of Peter Pan in the movie Hook was sprinkled with childlike fantasy.

In 1993, however, moviedom’s Peter Pan finally “grew up.” Spielberg silenced many of his detractors with Schindler’s List, his masterful drama about a gentile business­man who saved 1,100 Jews from the Plaszow death camp during World War II. The film was the culmination of a long personal strug­gle with Spielberg’s Jewish identity, a plea by a preeminent popular artist that to remem­ber is to speed up the healing.

“I was so ashamed of being a Jew, and now I’m filled with pride,” he said in inter­views at the time the movie was released. “This film has kind of come along with me on this journey from shame to honor.” For that film with a wrenching theme, Spielberg would receive two Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Picture. The film also won five other Oscars.

With Schindler’s List, Spielberg became a proselytizer for a spiritual unification of Germans and Jews. “I feel it is time in Germany for this generation to teach its children,” he said. “Education is the way to stop another Holocaust from happening.”

Following the emotional pulse of Schindler’s List, Spielberg also directed Amistad, a film about a Spanish ship that brought 53 abducted Africans to the U.S. in 1839 and provoked a slave revolt and a trial in which the slaves’ case was argued by former President John Quincy Adams.

To an extent, most of Spielberg’s films were identical to certain cliff-hanging chapters of his life.

Steven Allan Spielberg’s ancestors were among the 2 million Jews who fled Russia and Eastern Europe for the United States between 1881 and 1914, settling in Cincinnati, where he was born on Dec. 18, 1946. Some of his relatives remained in Russia for generations to come, and some eventually went to Israel, but many of those who did not emigrate were murdered during the Nazi Holocaust.

Spielberg was raised in the suburbs of Haddonfield, New Jersey and Phoenix, Arizona, where the elder Spielbergs and their four kids — Steven and his three younger sisters — lived from 1957 to 1964. As a child growing up in Haddonfield, where archaeologists found the first virtually complete dinosaur skeleton, Spielberg became fascinated with dinosaurs.

In Phoenix, he was a one-man commando unit against neighbors who made anti-Semitic slurs, sneaking up and smearing their windows with peanut butter.

It was in Arizona where Spielberg started making amateur films while still in his teens, later studying at California State University, Long Beach. In 1969, Spielberg’s 22-minute short feature Amblin was shown at the Atlanta Film Festival. It made him the youngest director ever to be signed to a long-term deal with a major Hollywood studio.

Four years later, he directed the suspense-filled telefilm Duel. He made his feature film directorial debut on The Sugarland Express, from a screenplay he co-wrote. His additional film credits include the Back to the Future trilogy, Always and The Color Purple. His film Saving Private Ryan, a World War II saga starring Tom Hanks, also landed on the blockbuster records.

Through the years, Steven Spielberg has directed, produced or executive produced eight of the top grossing films of all time. He had back-to-back block-buster hits with The Lost World: Jurassic Park, which he directed, and Men in Black, which he executive produced.

Steven Spielberg is, indeed, the most successful moviemaker in history. In 1996, Forbes Magazine estimated his net worth at $1 billion. Not bad for a kid who “felt like an alien” in America, and who turned to making movies as a way of finding social acceptance.

Observers say that Spielberg’s emotional isolation during his childhood may have helped delay his own maturation process. His parents, Leah and Arnold, divorced when he was 19. Steven remained close to his mother and her new husband Bernie Adler, who passed away several years ago.

Adler’s death shocked Steven into seeing the fragility of people’s lives. It also brought him closer to his father and to his growing family.

Spielberg shoots Sporting Clays in Europe with Harrison Ford.

Spielberg shoots Sporting Clays in Europe with Harrison Ford. Image used with photographer's permission.

Like almost every American boy growing up in the 1950s, Spielberg received guidance about matters such as gun safety from his father, Arnold Spielberg. And he pictured himself doing the same thing, besides other fatherly duties, even before his first child (with his first wife Amy Irving), Max, was born. “The child was going to change my life … I want to be like most parents.”

When Max Samuel Spielberg was born on June 13, 1985 at the Santa Monica Hospital, the exultant father described his son as “my best production yet.”

Today, Spielberg spends more time with his burgeoning family. With Kate Capshaw, whom he married in 1991, Spielberg has a brood of seven: Max (whose custody he shares with Irving); Jessica, (from Capshaw’s first marriage); Theo, Sasha, Sawyer, Mikaela and Destry.

It was Spielberg’s father, an electrical engineer and amateur film buff, who spurred his interest in movie-making. It was also his dad, a World War II Air Force sharpshooter, who taught Steven his gun-handling skills.

As someone who never enjoyed much of the regular sports during his childhood, Steven Spielberg introduced his son Max, in 1995, to the sport he knows best — Sporting Clays.

Screenwriter and director John Milius (Apocalypse Now and Clear and Present Danger) describes Steven Spielberg as a sharpshooter. Spielberg, he said, regularly shoots an Italian over/under Fabri shotgun, an engraved model of which costs in the neighborhood of $85,000.

Milius said he began shooting sporting clays with Spielberg in the late 1960s at the Oak Tree Gun Club in southern California. During their younger days, Milius said, they used to play at least once a week. “We call it red-neck golf,” Milius said, “just like golf, you either like it or you don’t.”

Explaining Spielberg’s passion for collecting top-of-the-line shotguns, Milius told this writer, “They are just beautiful things. How many beautiful works of art can you take out and use?”

Milius would often shoot Sporting Clays with Spielberg. He admits having lost “a few times” to Spielberg, who actually received some shooting lessons from him in the past. “I’m the teacher and he’s the student, but on a good day he’s really good.”

Art Bright, manager of the Pachmayr Range in southern California, remembers giving Spielberg and young Max a few shooting tips. “Steven Spielberg is a pretty good shot,” Bright says. “He’s probably a solid B-class shooter.”

Rifle maker Butch Searcy confirmed having built two big-bore rifles that were used as props in the movie Jurassic Park. The .600 Nitro rifles, bearing the serial numbers Lost World 1 and Lost World 2, are valued at $40,000 each, Searcy said, adding that Spielberg’s aides had told him that one of the rifles became a part of the director’s collection.

Once upon a shooting star, there was a lonely young boy who aimed for success and social acceptance. That boy, Steven Spielberg, is now an adult. But is he completely grown up? “Sometimes he’ll howl with glee after breaking some of his clay targets,” a Sporting Clays champion, who requested anonymity, said. “Sometimes when he gets excited, he just can’t control himself. At times, he’s just like a little kid.”

Obama and guns

June 8, 2009

Olympic trap shooting gold medalist Kim Rhode. Photo provided by Kim Rhode.

Around 11 years ago, a Democratic presidency triggered a rift in the firearms industry. Many company CEOs struggled with the financial ramifications of Bill Clinton’s presence at the White House. Some industry executives committed major blunders. Smith & Wesson, for example, caught the ire of gun owners across the country after it signed an agreement with the administration. The company agreed to numerous safety and design standards to avoid federal lawsuits. But gun-rights advocates described the agreement essentially as equivalent to gun rationing. Gun clubs launched large-scale boycotts and dealers stopped selling Smith & Wesson products. In 2001, the company built in 1855 by Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson — one of America’s largest firearms manufacturers — was sold to Saf-T-Hammer Corporation, a relatively new kid in the industry. The company’s leaders, like fast-draw shooters, quickly denounced the agreement. That move was received positively by gun owners. Today, such political kibitzing is not necessary. Even under a recession, gun sales are brisk. The rush to buy firearms is more intense than in the days following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Managers at gun stores report selling out of long guns the day after Obama was elected. Many dealers have a long waiting list of rifle buyers.

Let’s look back at the firearms industry under Bill Clinton. Here’s a full-page Opinion feature published on No. 9, 1997 in Southern California by The Press-Enterprise, a 160,000-daily owned by The Dallas Morning News:


By Roni Toldanes

When 17-year-old Kim Rhode aimed her shotgun, fired astonishing shots and seized an Olympic gold medal in 1996, the entire firearms indus­try cheered, heralding her victory as a “shot in the arm” pro-gun advocates desperately needed.

Rhode’s shots continue to reverberate one year after her triumph.

The petite girl’s record-breaking Olym­pic performance injected excitement in the shooting sports and provided positive media image for American gun owners. Most important of all, it triggered a debate in the board rooms of firearms companies on how guns should be marketed to the public. Today, the double-barreled ques­tion is: Is it time for the firearm industry to become politically correct?

Just like the tobacco industry, firearm companies are reeling under a series of negative media reports, mostly due to horrible gun-related (and sometimes gang-related) crimes that usually hit the front pages of newspapers, plus the persis­tent media blitzkrieg launched by gun control groups.

Indeed, firearms industry executives acknowledge that under no administration in modern American political history has there been as much concern about the future of gun ownership as under the leadership of President Clinton.

This concern was underlined by a rare meeting last month at the White House. Executives representing 18 major gun manufacturers shook hands and had their pic­tures taken with Clinton, the person they’ve always joked about, caricatured and portrayed in industry cocktail parties as an utter buffoon.

From all indications, however, that meeting was a “savvy political move.” It sidestepped a potential showdown in Con­gress and preempted the likelihood of facing tougher gun legislation.

Industry analysts say the firearms in­dustry apparently made the move as an initial step towards public acceptance. Wally Arida, publisher of a shooting sports mag­azine, said firearms executives now real­ize that firearms, with a proper marketing campaign could become as acceptable as cigars.

As in the past few years, the debate on guns in the U.S. immerses the public in a discussion with the fervency and absolut­ism of a debate over religion. Opponents speak of guns as if they were satanic instruments, innately evil; gun fanciers wave copies of the Second Amendment as if it were a chapter from the Bible.

Firearms industry executives admit that crimes involving guns have hurt the public’s perception of gun owners. Even hunting, once considered part of Ameri­can tradition, has become repulsive for many people.

With attacks against gun ownership from both the domestic and international fronts, the firearms industry has started adjusting its sights.

Citing Rhode’s exam­ple, gun executives noted that the industry can gain an upper hand in the publicity war by marketing guns as sports shooting equipment, not tools for self-defense or weapons for mass destruction.

Rhode, of El Monte, has been described as the modern-day version of the legendary Old West sharpshooter Annie Oakley. She has appeared – while holding her shotgun  –  on numerous TV talk shows, including The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, has graced the cover of several magazines and has been interviewed by scores of major newspapers. “Since the Olympics, I have collected 3,000 square feet of printed articles about her,” said Kim’s father and coach, Richard Rhode.

After Rhode’s Olympic performance, the shooting sports experienced an up­surge in membership as firearm companies threw in their support and started promoting the shooting sports as a whole­some family activity. More shooting disci­plines also began sprouting all over the country.

There’s a new gun game called Cowboy Action Shooting, which has attracted thousands of shooters. It gives men, women and children a chance to relive the past, wearing Old West clothing while shooting replica shotguns, revolvers and rifles.

Since last year, thousands of gun owners have also dusted off their pistols to join International Practical Shooting Confed­eration, a handgun tournament, after the International Olympic committee finally recognized it as a legitimate sport.

Several shooting organizations have also begun actively campaigning to intro­duce new gun owners to the shooting sports. The National Shooting Sports Foun­dation (NSSF) has embarked on several promos to attract writers in mainstream media, offering a $21,000 cash prize in a writing competition. It has also announced $60,000 in cash prizes for individuals who develop new shooting games this year.

Marketing toward women is a major focus. For example, when the first issue of Sports for Women Magazine hits the newsstands this month, Colt, one of the world’s biggest firearms companies, will sport in it a full-color ad featuring women who compete in shooting sports. It’s a signal that more and more women are joining the once male-dominated target sports and a new market is burgeoning.

“We predict that more shooters will visit target shooting facilities this year than ever before, fueled by an increase in first-­time shooters and women,” said Bob Delfay, president of the NSSF.

While range shooting opens up an incredible market, one firearm company CEO sees increased sales another way: “That’s an indication that guns are taking a positive turn towards political correctness.


Roni Toldanes wrote columns for The Press-Enterprise, a major daily owned by The Dallas Morning News

(Roni Toldanes is the editor of GunGames, a nationally circulated shooting sports magazine)