11 years ago this week I was in Columbus, Georgia with my son for a tennis tournament. Passing time at the Country Inn & Suites during a rain delay, I was flipping through the channels on the TV and made an important discovery. By dumb luck, I landed on a History Channel marathon showing back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back episodes of the inaugural season of “Top Shot.”
I didn’t have a cable television subscription at home at the time, so had no idea that a mainstream channel would air a program that combined the basic premise of the reality TV show “Survivor” with a shooting gallery on steroids captured by high speed videography. And I only stopped on the program because I recognized Colby Donaldson from “Survivor: Australian Outback.” Otherwise, I probably would have kept clicking right on past “Top Shot.”
What I saw was a revelation to me. To this day, I remember the trick shot showdown in episode 7 of that first season. Tara Poremba hit all of her targets shooting a Winchester Model 1873 rifle Annie Oakley style – backward over her shoulder using a mirror to aim – and Chris Cerino drove two of three nails by hitting them on the head with bullets fired from a Smith & Wesson M&P double action revolver. I did not realize it at the time, but the excitement of watching the “Top Shot” contestants’ marksmanship skills planted a seed of interest in firearms (as I noted in my first ever blog post 9 years ago).
It is certainly possible that I would have gotten into gun culture without having seen “Top Shot,” but there’s no doubt that seeing a fun and positive portrayal of firearms and shooters make my entry much easier.
I’ve come a long way since then in my journey through American gun culture. “Top Shot” related personal highlights include having a beer at the NRA Annual Meeting with the very same Chris Cerino I saw on TV years ago. . .
And hanging out with the infamous Caleb Giddings at the NSSF SHOT Show in Las Vegas.
The idea that firearms and shooters are normal not deviant is something that remains central to my entire sociological approach to Gun Culture 2.0 to this day. Watching Top Shot — and, later, shows like “Shooting Gallery” and “Shooting USA” — mattered.