Let Freedom -- and Gunshots -- Ring

In the wake of last week's terrorist attack, local big-gun lovers were deadly serious about staging their Fun Shoot.

In the days following the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., the majority of the sporting world, a place defined by its motion, stood still.

Major League Baseball suspended play for nearly a full week -- 91 games in all. "Who cares about baseball right now?" Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd said, putting words to the feelings of even the most diehard of fans. "This is not a time when you worry about playing games."

The National Football League canceled its full slate of games on Sunday, as well as the scheduled Monday-night match-up between Minnesota and Baltimore. "We felt it was right to take a week to reflect and to help our friends, families and people in the community who need our support," Commissioner Paul Tagliabue explained unnecessarily. Athletic directors at major universities agreed. "We didn't think it was appropriate to play a football game on a national day of mourning," said Jeff Hathaway of Colorado State University, which was scheduled to play Nevada-Las Vegas Friday night.

A variety of weapons were part of the Fun Shoot staged by Rocky Mountain Gun Owners.
photo courtesy of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, www.r
A variety of weapons were part of the Fun Shoot staged by Rocky Mountain Gun Owners.
Dudley Brown, executive director of RMGO, thinks the NRA is too soft.
photo courtesy of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, www.r
Dudley Brown, executive director of RMGO, thinks the NRA is too soft.

Denver-based Rocky Mountain Gun Owners took a different tack. "Our view was that terrorists had assaulted our liberties," said Dudley Brown, the lobbying organization's executive director. "That's just what they did; they took advantage of our liberties to assault ours. And we weren't about ready to restrict our own liberties."

So members pressed forward with their 2001 Fun Shoot. On the crest of a rise overlooking a muddy Morgan County field owned by the brother of state senator Marilyn Musgrave, several dozen enthusiasts set up their guns as planned. Not just any guns, though; certainly none of those that can be discharged at ranges in or near a city limit. This past weekend, the plains of Colorado were reserved for gun owners on the distant edge of the social definition of the Second Amendment -- a place RMGO knows well and accepts. "We're not afraid to be called radicals on the gun issue," says Brown. "Because that's what we are."

The annual Fun Shoot is dedicated to .50-caliber enthusiasts -- owners of, or merely those captivated by, the most powerful non-custom rifle made today. You won't see it in Gart Bros. or Wal-Mart, even though the restrictions on purchasing one remain the same as a shotgun or a .22 plinking rifle -- despite several failed legislative attempts to classify the gun alongside so-called "destructive devices" such as grenade-launchers.

Nearly six feet long, the guns have been known to make gun-control advocates apoplectic. The reasons have little to do with the weapon's actual track record. Unwieldy, heavy and expensive, .50-caliber guns have rarely been used in the commission of deadly crimes. (Albert Petrosky, who killed a Jefferson County sheriff's deputy in a 1995 shootout, carried one but didn't use it.) Yet their potential for mayhem is alarming, and their popularity is soaring.

The guns, which cost anywhere from $2,000 to $7,000 and up, are more powerful than most people can even imagine, with an effective range of about four miles. The .50-caliber cartridge, at about six inches long, is five times the size of the .30-06, a round that in other company might be considered plenty powerful. During the Fun Shoot, tracer ammo -- bullets coated with a fast-burning powder that illuminates the shot's trajectory -- showed .50-caliber bullets piercing entire cars and ventilating steel tanks.

Most people who like big guns like all big guns, and the .50-caliber was hardly the Fun Shoot's only draw. Throughout the event, the air rattled and the ground shook to the staccato music of a multitude of machine guns and assault rifles -- from small, handheld Uzis to anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns.

Across the country this past weekend, people grieved and feared. For Fun Shoot participants, the assembled firepower was a potent sign of individual freedom and a source of collective comfort. "This is probably the safest place in Colorado right now," Brown observed.

Few things simultaneously stir the patriotic soul and stoke the fires of anti-government outrage better than the Second Amendment. Add in feelings about the recent terrorist actions, and an especially strange mixture of resentment and pride hovered over the third annual Fun Shoot. The trucks and campers filling the parking areas boasted more than their fair share of bumper stickers questioning the motives of the U.S. government. But a dozen flags flown at half-mast across the encampment snapped in the strong midday breezes.

"With-us-or-against-us" groups like Rocky Mountain Gun Owners revel in this kind of muddy ideological terrain. "Last week I'm checking my telephone messages, and I got four from Democrats asking me where they could buy assault weapons," Brown reports gleefully. "Osama bin Laden hasn't kicked in any doors yet. But let's face it: When the riots happen, your ideology goes out the window."

If the riots do happen, RMGO will be standing by to say, 'We told you so.' Self-billed as "Colorado's Largest No-Compromise Gun Rights Organization," the group must have broken some kind of speed record last week. On September 14, a mere three days after terrorists rammed three planes into American monuments and crashed a fourth, RMGO posted an editorial on its Web site bemoaning how "Americans have been indoctrinated to be good victims."

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