When she was only 11 years old, and still living in her native Venezuela, Gabriela “Gabby” Franco made her very first visit to the place that would forever change her life, leading her on a path that included international competition, a stint on a popular television show, authorship of a book, and U.S. citizenship: That place: A shooting range.
“I loved it right from the beginning,” says Franco, now 34. “My father was there to practice for his firearms permit, and I got to go along one day to shoot pistols and rifles. I really liked the rifles and wanted to do more of that. But I was fairly small, so they kind of pushed me towards the pistols.”
It was a fateful push. Gabby became quickly hooked on handgun shooting and began training four to five hours a day, five to six days a week, with air pistols and .22-caliber handguns as part of the range’s Junior Olympic shooting club.
She was the only female in that club.
“A lot of girls were into gymnastics, like my sisters,” says Franco. “I was into shooting. I really enjoyed the precision, the concentration. Making that perfect shot. I didn’t care that I was the only girl at practice. I liked shooting, period, and I was going to keep doing it.”
From Local Matches to International Competitions
By 1995, Franco was competing against other young shooters, first in local events, later in national competitions. At the age of 19, she became the first woman to qualify for the Venezuelan Olympic Shooting Team, and she took silver at the Pan American Games in 1999 in the 10-meter air pistol event. She represented her country at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, and that same year won gold at the South American Games. In her last international competition, the 2002 South American Games, she won three gold medals, all in pistol-based competitions.
She was aiming to participate in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. But before the games started, her life took another big turn.
“My first visit to the U.S was in 1998, the World Cup in Atlanta,” Franco says. “I loved the U.S right away. In 2002, I was thinking about moving to the United States. I really admired the way the U.S. offers people the chance to be a success. But I had to make a decision, and it was a hard one. Do I stay in Venezuela and continue on with my dream of winning an Olympic medal? Or do I move to the United States?”
The pull towards the Olympics was very strong. Franco knew her future would always involve shooting and competition on some level, but she also knew it was time to start making a living. And she was sure the opportunities to make that living were much better in the United States than anywhere else.
“My father is a businessman, built his own business from scratch,” says Franco. “He’s a real entrepreneur, a very hard worker. I had that in me, too, that entrepreneurial spirit. And it just felt, to me, that the U.S. was the place I needed to be.”
The American Experience
Once she got settled into this country, Franco applied to be on the History Channel’s television show, “Top Shot.” Contestants on the show compete in various shooting events over the course of the 13-episode season, vying for tens of thousands of dollars in prizes. She was accepted as a competitor for Season Four. However, some close friends advised her not to go through with it.
“They said, ‘What if you lose in the very first round? It might hurt your reputation and your career.’ But I decided I was going to do it and do my best—and that I was going to enjoy myself. And I did. I loved Top Shot and it was a great experience for me.”
Franco became the first woman to make it to Top Shot’s “Green Shirt” or final stage, and finished 8th overall in the challenge.
A Shooting Sports Ambassador
Franco began training others in the art and science of effective shooting, something she continues to do today, offering both private and group lessons. Shooting education, she believes, is very important for everyone, including women. So many of the women she works with come to firearms very hesitant about even trying it. Often they are outright terrified of guns.
“I think everything is about attitude,” Franco explains. “If you think you can’t do it, you can’t and you won’t. When women or men have a fear of firearms, I think that’s because of a lack of knowledge. But once you are actually taught how to shoot, it’s actually pretty simple. And safe.”
That can-do attitude is found on every page of Franco’s book, “TroubleShooting: Mastering Your Pistol Marksmanship, Volume 1.” That positive attitude got the attention of gun manufacturer Remington Arms, which last year became a sponsor of Franco, who still regularly competes in U.S. Practical Shooting Association matches across the nation. The emphasis of the matches is engaging steel targets while the shooter is on the move, in various scenarios based on self-defense training. But it’s a tough occupation.
“I tell people, don’t expect to make a living from competitions. Even with all the great help I get from Remington, it would be very difficult financially if I relied only on the competitions for income.”
As she explains, the ten competitions she did in 2015 took up weeks of practice and training. Plus, each competition itself, including travel to and from, encompasses up to a week. Franco is an exceptional shooter, but she competes against some of the best handgunners in the country, so a win—and the associated prize money—is in no way guaranteed at any match.
Her work as an NRA News commentator on the show’s “Tips and Tactics” segments, which she started just a year ago, brings in some of that needed income. More importantly, she says, it also gives her a chance to spread the message that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution isn’t simply words on paper—it is a right Americans have, to protect themselves and their loved ones.
“I sometimes think American’s don’t understand how great they truly have it here,” says Franco. “In Venezuela, it’s almost impossible for a citizen to buy a firearm because there are so many rules and regulations, so many requirements.”
She continues, “Imagine if you lived in this country, and you wanted to buy a gun—but first you had go to Wyoming to get your license. And then you had to travel to Washington, D.C., and spend a couple weeks there taking the required training. How many Americans could do that, could spend all that money and time? Very few, I think, and that’s pretty much the situation in Venezuela. It’s scary, the fact that you can’t own a firearm in my native country and protect yourself.”
As she said on a recent NRA News segment, “We must all be ready to protect or freedoms—for a better future. I’m so glad I live in a country where the Constitution actually empowers me to protect myself and my family.”