Pistol champ Rob Leatham with Hillsdale College stu­dents. AUSTIN GERGENS | COURTESY

Pistol World Champion Rob Leatham spent October 17 and 18 at the John A. Halter Shooting Sports Center. He spent his time coaching the Hillsdale Pistol Club on behalf of their new sponsors, Spring­field Armory. Leatham is: an 8‑time Inter­na­tional Prac­tical Shooting Con­fed­er­ation World Champion, an 11-time NRA Bianchi Cup Champion, a 17-time Single Stack National Champion, and a 30-time United States Prac­tical Shooting Asso­ci­ation National Champion.  

 How did your career get its start? 

I grew up loving pistols, more so than even rifles or shotguns at that period of time, and so I really don’t remember not shooting. It was really kind of the for­mative years of my life. I got in high school and got into sports and things became very, very com­pet­itive but I never lost my love for shooting and shot all the time that I could.

Bas­ketball and track were my two biggest sports. I still remember being in bas­ketball and track practice and I’m thinking about guns the whole time. I just couldn’t wait to get shooting.

When I heard that there were com­pe­ti­tions for pistol shooting, and being a com­pet­itive person by nature; well, yeah, I wanted to be a part of that. As soon as I got involved in the for­malized com­pe­tition, I was hooked. I mean, that’s all I ever wanted to do. I never antic­i­pated making it a business or life. It was just a hobby.”

When I got out of high school, I did not go to college because I wanted to get a job so I could afford to shoot. And that’s really kind of how my involvement pro­fes­sionally began. I won a few nationals and I won a world cham­pi­onship and I said, ‘Man, that’s all I want to do. I won’t do any­thing but shoot.’

How did you become a world champion pistol shooter? 

“There are lots of people who practice shooting, there are a lot of people that shoot more than I do.  It comes down to skill. You fun­da­men­tally have to be skilled at shooting. That includes hand eye coor­di­nation and dex­terity. You also have to be a good com­petitor. You have to be able to perform under pressure.

I can’t tell you that I like pressure and that I enjoy it. But I thrive in that envi­ronment. So even though I may not like it very much, I know I can still shoot well and still do my job. So that’s a factor in it. And the rest of it’s just drive to to do the best you can.

Shooting isn’t just a hobby, it’s my business. It’s my life. But I still look at it with the young eyes. I love that envi­ronment. I love the com­pet­i­tiveness of it. So I guess the big picture is put all those pieces together and that’s what’s allowed me to succeed when others may not have.

What’s your next big chal­lenge?  

“I became an employee of Spring­field Armory in 1989, and for the first 20 years all I had to do was shoot, go to matches, practice, train, and teach. My life has changed a lot in the past eight to 10 years and as I get older now, winning another national isn’t really going to change the direction of my life anymore. At this point we’re trying to cash-in on my knowledge. I mean, I’ve been around a long time. I know a lot about guns. So I am involved in the research and devel­opment process of new products. They use me for pro­mo­tional events where I do demos and things like that. And that’s really what my life’s become now.

I’m still chasing the same thing though. Yeah, I would love to be a better shot – the driving goal of my whole shooting career has been pushing for excel­lence, trying to shoot as well as I could and become a better shot, and that’s never changed. But I’ve never felt that I’ve reached the point where there’s nothing left to learn, or there’s nothing left to improve. Every match I shoot there’s some­thing I could have done better.

What are your thoughts about  the future of shooting sports in light of the anti-gun movement?

I think people need to do more. We cannot sit back and be com­part­men­talized and say, ‘I’m a shotgun shooter. I don’t care about those pistols and rifles ’ or say ‘I don’t care about those assault rifles.’ Because the reality is we’re moving into an ever more restrictive envi­ronment. 

So I think really the chal­lenge for your gen­er­ation is to put balance to it. It’s almost like Star Wars where somebody’s got to balance the uni­verse. My gen­er­ation is too old, so it’s going to be you guys.And if it’s nothing more than if you’re a shooter, take somebody shooting. It sounds so simple and so stupid, but every place I’ve ever lived, I’ve had neighbors that came to me and said, ‘You’re the shooter guy, right?’ I said yeah and they would say ‘I don’t know any­thing about guns and I’m kind of scared.’ 

I’d say ‘That’s okay I respect that. Do you want to go shooting? I got prac­ti­cally any­thing you’ve ever imagined. You just tell me what you want to go shoot.’ 

And every time that’s hap­pened every single time those people that were on the fence said ‘This is not what I thought it was. The gun is just a thing. It doesn’t have evil intent, or good intent. It’s a bas­ketball, or a bowling ball or a motor­cycle or race car.And I think the chal­lenge is to make people know it’s okay.

It’s really easy to sit back and say I don’t want to tell anybody that I have any guns, but I want to be the opposite. Yeah I got guns – do you want to know about guns?