16-year-old Lola Fitzgerald practices her skeet shooting skills
16-year-old Lola Fitzgerald practices her skeet shooting skills / Jay Fitzgerald

New California Gun Law Dashing a Young Female Champion’s Olympic Dream

Lola Fitzerald wants to grow up to be like six-time Olympian Kim Rhode.

Rhode is one of the most accomplished Team USA athletes in history. She’s won two golds and one bronze medal in double trap shooting. She’s bagged another gold, a silver, and a bronze medal in skeet shooting. She was the first summer Olympian to medal at six consecutive games and the first Olympian to win on five different continents.

Lola has a long way to go to have a shot at matching those lofty heights. However, the 16-year-old is off to an excellent start. Like Rhode was growing up, Lola is one of the top youth shooters in California. On top of that, she’s become one of the country’s top ten female youth shooters and has been invited to several Olympic development camps.

“Lola’s got four All-American titles,” Jay Fitzgerald, Lola’s father, told The Reload. “She’s got three World Junior titles under her belt. She has been a four-time Ladies’ Skeet Champion here in California.”

But the promising young prospect’s Olympic dream may now be out of reach due to no fault of her own. A new gun law signed into law by California Governor Gavin Newsom (D.) on June 30th is wreaking havoc on youth shooting sports in the state. The law, AB 2571, was sold by Newsom as a ban on advertising guns to children that will “save lives.” Instead, its most immediate effect has been causing the closure of most California youth shooting leagues over fears they could face massive liability for violating the law–each violation carries up to a $25,000 fine.

Lola said the fallout has already started to harm her development as a competitive shooter, and she doesn’t think that’s fair.

“I think I have been wronged by this law,” she told The Reload. “I have very much been wronged.”

She said she’s effectively been shut out of the sport she loves.

“I’ve been cut off from all tournaments around the country,” Lola said. “I’m no longer allowed to see what the dates of tournaments are. I’m no longer allowed to input scores. And, frankly, some of the tournaments probably don’t want me to go anymore because of the risk.”

The issue stems from how broad the law was written. It bans any person, company, or group who encourages “the purchase, use, or ownership of firearm-related products,” or even just promotes an event where they are used, from marketing any of those products in a way this is meant to be or “reasonably appears to be attractive to minors.” That includes any products that modify guns to make them more usable for anyone under 18 years old.

Chuck Michel, president of the California Rifle and Pistol Association (CRPA), said the law is doing what lawmakers intended: hampering young Californians’ lawful use of guns.

“The practical effect of this law is that it crushes almost every youth shooting sports program out of existence,” he said. “They all rely on communicating when they’re going to have certain events or do certain things. God forbid you ever advertise that you’re going to have something fun for junior shooters to do because all that is banned.”

Governor Newsom disagrees. A spokesperson with his office said the governor believes the law only prohibits the advertising of guns to minors, though they would not say if Newsom supports amending the law to make that clear.

“We do not understand AB 2571 to be intended to prohibit marketing or holding educational classes, competitive events or soliciting membership in youth organizations,” the spokesperson told The Reload. “Similarly, we do not understand AB 2571 to ban ‘any sort of activity likely to entice minors to want firearms.'”

“Well, they didn’t write it that way,” Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF), told The Reload. “On its face, it basically puts everybody in jeopardy. When you have an anti-gun Attorney General in the state and a governor who has already made it known that he wants to demonize the firearms industry, who can trust them?”

California Attorney General Rob Bonta (D.) did not respond to questions about how he is interpreting the law and plans for enforcement. However, he told Fox 11 that his office “will respond in court” to a challenge by CRPA and SAF against the law.

In practice, though, many hunting and shooting sports organizations in California have determined the law puts them at serious risk. The California State High School Clay Target League has folded, and the Scholastic Shooting Sports Foundation has ceased all communications inside the state. The shutdowns have affected thousands and thousands of youth shooters across the nation’s most populous state.

Similarly, the San Diego County Wildlife Federation recently canceled its National Hunting and Fishing Day event. Gary F. Brennan, president of the group, explained the group’s reasoning in a letter announcing the cancelation.

“The San Diego County Wildlife Federation would fall under numerous categories of the code when it comes to the event since our goal was to attract families, we would be charging an entrance fee to attend, firearms would be present which may be attractive to minors to include the CRPA’s BB-gun range and other possible shooting booths,” he said. “Other vendors would be offering Firearms and firearms related items. Our raffles would include many of the prohibited items listed in the law.”

Lola first got involved in the shooting sports as a five-year-old when she became her dad’s puller, helping send clay targets flying through the air for him to try and hit. She said she loves her dad for getting her involved in the sport, and it has become one of her favorite ways to bond with him.

“My dad’s very busy, and shooting is one of the only times throughout the week that I can really see and hang out with my dad,” she said. “Tell him about my week and joke.”

While her father got her started in the sport, a chance encounter with fellow-Californian Diana Riddle made her realize how far she could go within it. Before meeting the champion trap and skeet shooter, she’d only ever thought of shotgun shooting as a sport for men.

“One day, I saw Diana Riddle,” Lola said. “She ended up coming to the range and, at the age of nine, I was like, ‘Whoa. She’s so cool. I want to be like her.'”

She started shooting competitively soon afterward. In the seven years since then, the thrill of successfully breaking a clay target as it flies through the air still hasn’t worn off.

“It’s very satisfying to watch the clay explode,” Lola said. “I’m still like a little kid, ‘I just got that! I hit that!’ It just makes me feel like a kid with candy.”

Her success has made her a hot commodity among shooting coaches and college programs. While Lola is now a junior in high school, she has heard from collegiate shooting teams for several years. But she said that’s all dried up since the signing of AB 2571.

“They’re not allowed to talk to me anymore,” she said. “I’ve been getting a lot of denials from coaches. A lot of college scholarship opportunities have also gone down the toilet.”

She has been able to keep practicing on her own but worries if things carry on the way they are right now, it will ultimately ruin her chances at following her dream.

“It is very, very frustrating for me because I want to go as far as I can with it,” Lola said. “And I want to utilize as much time as I have right now. I don’t want to wait until I’m 18 to be able to be contacted. That’ll be too late for college.”

Jay Fitzgerald said they are considering all kinds of different options to help keep Lola’s training on track. But they are struggling to find answers.

“We’ve even talked to coaches outside of California,” he said. “So let’s say we fly over to Arizona, right? That coach, the way the law is written, is still unable to coach Lola because she’s a resident of California.”

That has led the family to talk about moving out of California. But Jay owns and operates a successful business making it difficult to just pack up and find a new home. Lola doesn’t want to have to move to pursue the sport she loves either.

“I just wish they would rethink it,” Lola said. “I hope with all that I can that they will.”

Alan Gottlieb said he doubts the state will rethink the law. However, he was much more confident in the legal challenge against it. He called the law “blatantly unconstitutional” and compared it to Tracy Rifle and Pistol v. Becerra, where a federal district court struck down a California ban on nearly all gun store advertising in 2018.

“It’s a total infringement on First Amendment rights that affects you exercising your Second Amendment rights,” Gottlieb said. “It’s not going to hold up in court. We’re gonna win.”

A hearing on the gun-rights groups’ request for a preliminary injunction against the law is slated for August 21st. A similar request was denied in Tracy, which kept the previous ad ban in place for nearly four years before it was ultimately struck down.

Kim Rhode and Diana Riddle were able to develop world-beating shotgun skills during their time growing up in California. If AB 2571 isn’t stuck down or amended soon, Lola Fitzgerald will be denied the opportunity to do the same.

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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