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March 6, 2013
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Fired up

Guns are here to stay is the collective cry in Gypsum these days.Gypsum Town Council recently passed a resolution in support of the Second Amendment and the Gypsum Rod and Gun Club is seeing more participation than ever.The town council doesn't want to see the Constitution whittled away and the Gun Club members can fire off many reasons why stricter gun legislation won't do much to prevent violent crimes. Most of those reasons essentially echo the statement of a bumper sticker: "Guns don't kill people. People kill people."

The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution - which guarantees the right of citizens to own guns - is perceived to be threatened enough lately that the town of Gypsum passed a resolution last week to express support for it. (See sidebar.)Gypsum Mayor Pro Tem Dick Mayne is also the Gun Club's president and he introduced the idea for a resolution after Jefferson County Commissioners passed a similar version. Gypsum's resolution passed with six members in support and one abstention by Tom Edwards."I agreed with pretty much all of it except one small part," Edwards said. "I didn't want to vote against it so I abstained.""I think this is a sad time when small towns have to pass resolutions to support the Constitution," said Gypsum Council member Pam Schultz. "If we have to support this amendment that already exists, what else will we have to support? We shouldn't have to be doing this."Gun Club Secretary Esgar Acosta said that is probably why people feel so strongly about some proposed state legislation that would limit the number of bullets a weapon can have."If we start down this path, where does it end?" said the former police officer. "I think that is the real concern."Acosta said bad people are going to do bad things."Once a person has made up his mind to do harm, he can do it without any weapon," he said. "A (small) .22-caliber bullet can actually be more deadly than a bigger round."Acosta said a .22 bullet has a higher likelihood of ricocheting around in the body. He described video footage of a cop that died in a shoot-out. The suspect was shot four times by a .40-caliber handgun and lived. The cop was shot twice with a .22 and died. The point in the context of this article, Acosta said, is that harm can be done with any size weapon."I don't think there's a right or wrong answer to the gun debate, so I think it's hard for government to get involved," he said. "Education is key."

The club at the Gypsum Shooting Sports Park is dedicated to safety and education."We have more members than ever, and when you consider that we sometimes have hundreds of guns and people here at one time, it's impressive that we've never had an accident," said Randy Carter, who has been a caretaker of the Shooting Sports Park with his wife, Barb, for several years.Mayne nodded."There's never been an accident that I know of and I've been shooting here since I was a teenager in the 1960s," he said. "The more people are educated, the less likely it is for accidents and misuse of firearms to happen."If anything, all the talk of restricting gun rights has encouraged people's interest in weapons."Since President Obama got elected, he's been the best salesman we ever had," Mayne said.Attesting to that is the club's rising membership, which has grown from about 80 people six years ago to more than 300. The last two years have seen the most dramatic increase."Especially in the last couple years, there's been a lot of interest in hand guns," Mayne said.Acosta agreed."I've seen an increase in people getting excited to learn about weapons," he said. "Is it related to the hype? I think it is a little bit."Besides the club activities, the Shooting Sports Park hosts several educational and training programs, such as the Whistling Bullets 4-H Shooting Sports Club for children, hunter safety classes and law enforcement training. It's challenging for the current clubhouse - a one-room building - to meet the demand."It's tough to fit one hunter safety class of about 35 people in here, and sometimes we also have an event going on," Barb Carter said.With that in mind, the club is applying for grants and has plans to build a $1.5 million, two-story building next year. "With two levels, a class can be on the second floor and we can host an event at the same time on the first floor," Mayne said.

Dave Hammond is the co-leader of the Whistling Bullets and vice president of the Eagle Valley Rod and Gun Club. The 4-H group shoots once a week starting the middle of May through July with the following disciplines: Archery, .22 rifle, muzzle loading rifle and shotgun - trap and five-stand. "The 4-H Club is about youth development where the members learn citizenship, responsibility, sportsmanship, conflict resolution, community service and many other qualities," Hammond said. "I have been a leader for nine years and have been able to use the Gypsum Shooting Sports Park all of those years. We are extremely fortunate to have such a top facility for the youth, ages 8-18, to use and learn safe firearm and archery skills. Last year we had 34 male and female shooters register and take part in the program. This year is going to surpass last year's enrollment."Hammond said national 4-H Shooting Sports was started in 1981. He said that in over five billion contact hours with the 300,000 registered youth, there has only been one documented injury, which happened in 1981. "We, as a club, discuss issues in the news regarding firearms and shootings and what we think about them and how they might affect us personally and as a community," he said. "The 4-H Shooting Sports Club is very fortunate to have such a well-run and well-respected range to be associated with."

The land used by the Shooting Sports Park was originally a landfill. At some point it became a popular place to shoot. Around the 1950s and '60s, a handful of people including Fred Collett and Hank Knuth organized some gun clubs and built trap houses there, but no one was officially responsible for the land. The clubs would pitch in for maintenance and improvements over the years but the site didn't even have running water."I think there was a hesitance to invest heavily into it because there was no guarantee the county wouldn't decide to do something else with the land and a scrap any improvements that were made," Mayne said. "The county wouldn't give a long-term lease agreement."With Mayne's urging, Gypsum annexed the land around 1998 and declared it a shooting sports park. Since then, the various clubs have come together as one, pooling their funding and efforts for big projects like the new clubhouse.Last year, the club paved the formerly muddy road leading to the facility. Two years ago, the archery range and a parking lot were improved. Before that, 10 berms were improved and roofs were added to the rifle and pistol ranges. The facility got running water about eight years ago.An annual membership fee that covers a whole family is $150. There is also an option to knock $50 off the dues by volunteering for projects and events. The public is also welcome to use the facilities. Those people are expected to pay a $5 fee per person (it's an honor system) and they don't have access to the locked facilities, such as a shed with targets and ammunition. The club's seven board members are elected to three-year terms. The board is set up to represent all the different disciplines of the shooting sports park, so that one sport doesn't overshadow the rest."Having so many different interests available in such a small area is unique," Mayne said. "We have members from places like Minnesota, Denver and Rifle these days."Meetings are the second Wednesday of each month at 7 p.m. and the public is always welcome. Mayne said safety talks and updates on regulations precede each meeting.

Mayne said a big reason the shooting park hasn't seen any real mishaps is probably because it is gated and Randy and Barb Carter live there to keep an eye on the place."I can spot someone who has never been to a gun range about that quick!" Barb said, snapping her fingers.That's OK and those people are perfectly welcome, provided they listen to instruction and obey the rules. Barb said the facility is ideal for new gun owners."Would you rather have someone shooting on the side of the road, or here, where they're supervised?" she said.She added that shooting on the side of the road always leaves trash. Even if the person picks up his or her bullet casings, the rounds themselves are hard to retrieve."Here we pick up your trash," Randy said.Randy said he only has to eject one or two people a year when they don't follow the rules."When I see a guy point a loaded gun at someone, I don't ever want him here again," he said, recalling one incident.Most people are receptive to learning about their mistakes and don't give the messenger any guff when they're called out."I hear a lot of people at the club saying, 'Oh, I didn't know that,'" Acosta said.

Mayne and Randy Carter said the government isn't able to enforce the gun laws it already has and that is one reason why they are skeptical of new legislation."I think there are laws now that need to be enforced more and with stiffer penalties," Mayne said. "Bad people are going to do bad things. Taking away rights doesn't solve anything."Acosta suggested efforts should be focused on getting people psychological help and being careful how children are raised."There could be a lot of factors that account for cases of gun violence," he said. "There are the parents, TV, video games - a whole culture to consider - where do we stop blaming the gun?"

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The VailDaily Updated Mar 6, 2013 12:55PM Published Mar 6, 2013 12:47PM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.