By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
Finding enough space to shoot guns with a range that can be measured in townships is always a challenge. Last year's Fun Shoot was held in unincorporated Adams County -- an isolated area, but close enough to DIA flight patterns to warrant concern. Particularly now. "After what happened last Tuesday, I don't think the FAA was going to be happy with us shooting 20-millimeter guns in flight paths," Brown points out. Originally the group thought it had found a site outside of Brush, a range that Brown had used before. "One of the things I like to do is get together with a bunch of guys from my church and go to this place north of Brush," he says. "We tie an old car to a post, put a brick on the gas pedal and let it drive itself in circles while me and some friends shoot at it with machine guns. It takes about five minutes to stop it with eight guys shooting. Cars are tough. Usually it's the radiator hits that stop it. Then we got to let it burn."
But that location, too, proved imperfect for a sustained Fun Shoot. "An old lady lives next door, and we wouldn't have been able to let her stay there," Brown says. "It just wouldn't have been nice. We would have had to send her to Disneyland to see her grandkids." Finally, after some calls, Brown landed the Musgrave plot.
Situated a dozen miles east of the Weld/Morgan county line, the firing range was about as safe as you could get and still be inside what is commonly known as civilization. Rules for shooters were strict, and strictly enforced: mandatory eye and ear protection, no alcohol, open chamber markers (such as a pencil sticking out of the chamber) required, ownership paperwork in order. There was even a dress code -- or, more accurately, an anti-dress code. "The media could try to paint us in the 'militia' corner, so we ask, 'No camos, please,'" the registration form noted. (Everyone complied, although one father-son team passed the weekend in fully authentic World War II garb. Message T-shirts were also common: "Christian, American, Heterosexual, Pro-Gun Conservative. Any questions?" read one.)
The field looked less like productive crop acreage than a large yard decorated Appalachian style. Several old automobiles had been placed at different distances throughout the plowed property; numerous propane tanks were also scattered about the field. Most of the targets ranged from a quarter to two-thirds of a mile from the firing line. On a hill beyond the field, just under a mile distant, a lone propane tank taunted shooters. (Early Saturday afternoon, a temporary ceasefire was ordered so that volunteers could put out a small grass fire ignited when that target was hit.)
The report of Lon's 37-millimeter cannon was like pressing your ear to a clap of thunder. A collective whistle of appreciation rippled through the crowd as a round slammed into a junked car in the middle of the field. "Whooo-eeee!" yelled one guy. "You gotta love that!"
Lon, who began collecting guns years ago, definitely does. "You know how it is," he says. "You start small and you work your way up." He bought the 37-millimeter from a man in Pahrump, Nevada, who had kept it in a shed for years until the thing rusted into uselessness. Although ammunition is difficult to find, Lon has managed to scrape together about 200 shells, which he reloads by hand.
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which regulates guns in this country, doesn't pay a lot of attention to older weapons. Under a section of the law called "Curios and Relics," many large guns over fifty years old can be bought and sold without much oversight of the transactions. This break from government intervention and meddling is a welcome relief for big-gun enthusiasts such as Lon, whose collection has grown over the years.
Lon had also set up a 1940s-era Solothurn, from Switzerland, obtained from a police officer near Detroit. Farther down the line was a 1940 Boys. Originally a .55-caliber anti-tank gun, Lon converted it to .50-caliber because the ammunition is easier to find. Next to that was a 1918 Maxim, an 8-millimeter automatic Lon acquired from a guy who lived outside of Greeley. When Lon found it, the gun was rusted up -- "deactivated," in BATF lingo. But with some elbow grease and a $200 federal tax payment, it became fully functional.
Lon's guns were a highlight of the weekend, and people periodically stopped shooting their own firearms in order to watch him direct tracer rounds into a car about 400 yards away. Each shot was unfailingly accurate, and smoke curled up around the car. Every hour or so, Lon also launched a bowling ball from his vintage mortar. It soared several thousand feet up and a good quarter-mile away before falling into the mud with a classic incoming whistle.
But Lon's guns were far from the only draw. Denver Bullets Inc., a Capitol Hill gun store, had reserved two conjoining spots along the firing line. Under a pair of white tents, three employees were kept busy renting out a large selection of Uzis and a series of fully automatic 9-millimeter rifles and AK-47s, all firing anywhere from 500 to 1,200 rounds per minute. There was also a relatively rare, fully automatic 12-gauge shotgun.