LONDON — US Olympic shooting competitors hope those watching the London Games do not link their firearm sports with the shooter who killed 12 people and wounded 58 others at an American theatre last week.
But the Olympic medallists said they could see how the horrific incident last week at a midnight screening of the new Batman movie "The Dark Knight Rises" might be generalized with their rifle, pistol and shotgun disciplines.
"It's going to affect the participants of our sport. It's going to have an affect on certain perceptions of America," said Vincent Hancock, a US Army soldier and defending Olympic men's skeet champion.
"We are one of the safest sports going. Our guys are safety-minded first. There are more injuries in ping pong than there are in shooting."
Bulgarian-born Emil Milev, a three-time Bulgarian Olympian who took a 1996 silver medal in rapid fire pistol and became a US citizen in 2009, said that anyone who would attack people in such a fashion would harm even without guns.
"It's not the gun that kills. It's the person that kills," Milev said. "For me, this is not a person. There's something wrong with his head. He would find a way to do harm even if he can't get his hands on firearms.
"I don't think firearms use should struggle and be punished. I don't think firearm sports should be linked with that. Bulgaria is really strict on weapons and I have seen some crime with weapons."
Milev was worried when he saw news of the shooting in Europe because one of his Olympic teammates, Keith Sanderson, was going to see the movie at midnight, but not in the Denver suburb of Aurora where the attacks were made.
"Go to the clubs," Milev said. "Educate yourself. Educate your kids."
Matt Emmons, the 2004 50m prone rifle Olympic champion and 2008 runner-up, said that his experience has found sport shooters are far from extremists.
"Some of the nicest, most gentle people I have ever met are shooters," he said. "They are not these extreme people. It's unfortunate these incidents are reflected upon us. It's a shame."
But the Colorado resident understands the anti-gun sentiment in the wake of the mass murder.
"That's an absolutely horrible thing," Emmons said. "These types of things scare the heck out of me. To use firearms, or any violence, to harm innocent people, it's just not cool. Unfortunately people make the connection because our sport involves firearms."
Kim Rhode, a women's trap and skeet shooter seeking a medal in her fifth consecutive Olympics, stressed the benefits from her years with guns, including her Olympic double trap gold at age 17 in 1996.
"Our sport is a sport. It's completely different from an isolated incident like this," she said. "It's very important to us our sport is not generalized. The lines get blurred between news and a sport that teaches discipline, respect, about the outdoors and teaces families and youth about the sport.
"It's sad we get generalized into that."
Hancock said events like the Olympics raise awareness of the benefits of gun sport and might even help troubled youth find help, even in the military.
"Obviously the kid was struggling with something and needed some help," Hancock said. "We might be able to get them help.
"A lot of kids, when they get into shooting sports, go into the military. It teaches you dedication to your country. Having the opportunity to serve your country and bond with your brothers in arms, they are true brothers. You don't make friends like that anywhere else."