Talented Junior Marksman Overcomes Firearm Challenges with Family Support
October 16, 2015Civilian Marksmanship Program▸The First Shot▸Talented Junior Marksman Overcomes Firearm Challenges with Family Support
By Ashley Brugnone, CMP Writer – with great contribution from Alice Kang
Samuel Kwon’s path to excellence has been a unique and challenging one. A junior at Packer Collegiate Institute in New York City, Sam, 16, took up Conventional/Precision Pistol shooting just three years ago and has already shown outstanding skill in the sport.
At the 2015 National Trophy Pistol Matches at Camp Perry, Sam was the overall winner of the Junior Individual Pistol Match – winning the G.P. Perry DeFino Trophy with his score of 270-4x. He also placed second in the Junior President’s Match and third in the Overall Junior Pistol rankings.
Because Sam had to fly back to attend classes the day after competition, he wasn’t able to stay for the National Match awards ceremony. It wasn’t until the next day, while he was in biology class, that his uncle sent him a text to tell him the good news.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I was really happy that I was able to make it to Camp Perry this year. It was worth all the make-up work I had to do for school.”
Last year, at his first National Trophy Pistol Matches, Sam finished in the Top 10 in the Junior Individual Match and in the Top 20 overall amongst all junior pistol competitors. Noticeably gifted with a natural flair for competitive shooting, he has also been fortunate enough to have a caring family to support him along the way through the unexpected ups and downs of his journey.
From the start, Sam was greatly influenced by his uncle, Dr. Richard Kang, who guided his fascination for pistol shooting. Sam recalls going to his uncle’s house when he was young and asking to fire BB guns – shooting at cans until they were called in for dinner.
Dr. Kang, an orthopedic surgeon from Maryland, has been shooting competitively since 1997 and is a Distinguished Pistol Shot and a NRA High Master. After Sam witnessed his uncle’s matches and tried a few practices, he was immediately enthusiastic about the sport.
“The shooting and scoring was so exciting, and watching the firing line was very cool,” he said. “My mom asked me about Bullseye and if I’d be interested in doing it as a serious sport. I decided to check it out and was surprised by the time and practice it took to hit the targets – but I was hooked.”
With his new passion, Sam quickly learned that living in downtown Manhattan presented some unique challenges for a marksman. His biggest obstacle was trying to find a place to practice in New York City after finding out the laws were extremely prohibitive with all things guns. Anyone under the age of 21 in New York City cannot legally handle a firearm – explaining the non-existence of junior shooting teams and organizations in and around the city and the state.
In nearby New Jersey, however, minors under parental supervision with or without a permit can attend ranges for practice and competition. With that knowledge, Sam joined the Old Bridge Rifle and Pistol Club in New Jersey. There, Sam and many other juniors pursuing the sport receive the incomparable help of Mary Badiak, the match director at the club, as well as Ed Glidden, who manages the junior program.
Though Sam practices with the team as a club member and participates in matches with the club’s junior team, he unfortunately can’t fire with the group at Camp Perry since he is not a resident of New Jersey.
As an additional challenge, Sam has spent his competitive shooting career using borrowed pistols. A few years ago, before Sam took up the sport, there was a “Target” permit that allowed gun owners to travel to scheduled NRA/CMP sanctioned events in and out of state with their pistols. Now, it’s completely prohibited to travel outside the state with any firearm.
“Practicing for a match without the gun you’re going to actually use is very difficult,” he said.
In New Jersey, he uses the club’s pistol that the junior program directors keep around for the purpose of travel use. Sam also occasionally borrows a pistol from Dr. Kang, when they attend the same matches.
At first, to overcome the challenges of New York’s strict laws, Sam practiced with an air gun. Because the weight, balance and trigger pull were significantly different than the 1911 he would usually shoot, his mom, Alice, got her pistol license and allowed Sam to dry-fire the .45 she kept at home.
“I was a bit discouraged by challenges at the start, but my parents and I found ways around the obstacles, and we didn’t let them stop us,” Sam said.
Sam has worked with his mother and his father, OhSang, to meet each of his challenges successfully – with both of his parents participating in competition and practice with Sam whenever possible.
“My parents’ support has been phenomenal. I can’t imagine pursuing this sport without them,” Sam said. “They’re willing to drive hours to a match, go through weeks and weeks of papers to get a license solely so I can practice and give their never-ending support. I’d also like to give a shout out to my uncle, who’s also been very supportive and encouraging.”
Since there has been so much controversy with second amendment rights and laws in the public and media, Alice and OhSang have also encouraged Sam to research and understand the issues for himself. He practices safe and conservative gun handling, and he and his family have all taken safety classes and are continually coached on proper safety and match shooting protocols.
“Gun issues – mainly violence unfortunately – have helped me understand the need for ‘safety first’ and respect for competitive shooting,” he said. “Many people don’t understand how safe the sport of shooting actually is. ‘Safety is first, last and always’ – that’s what’s been drilled through my head.”
His mother, Alice, added, “It is important to us that he articulate and defend his participation in the sport and his opinion. His father and I are very proud of him and we think his perseverance pursuing his sport is admirable.”
Winning the Junior Individual Pistol Match was just the latest in a series of achievements for Sam in his already impressive competitive shooting career. During a spring Tri-State Regional match in New Jersey this past year, his score elevated his classification to Sharpshooter. Looking ahead, Sam plans to continue to attend practices and matches to achieve a higher classification next year – with a goal of attending the 2016 National Matches with Expert classification.
“This sport has everything,” he said. “Great team spirit, interesting physical and mental challenges, a chance to make new friends and go to new places – it’s been a great experience and I’m looking forward to more great experiences in the sport.”