Skip to comments.The gun owner next door
Posted on 12/02/2002 12:45:35 PM PST by 45Auto
Pinpricks of sound crackle in succession.
The heady smell of gunpowder hangs in the air.
At the No. 8 firing point, Jim Monserud takes a deep breath, cradling his custom-made Colt CAR-A3 rifle.
Gently, almost lovingly, he squeezes the trigger, rocking back ever so slightly with the force of the recoil.
Focused, he doesn't even see the other competitors through his sun-colored glasses.
"It's kind of a competition with yourself," says the 50-year-old marksman from Lafayette, one of 14 gun enthusiasts vying for supremacy during this high-power rifle match on a recent Saturday at the Boulder Rifle Club.
A private facility just north of the city, the club sits on a 6-acre parcel of land that houses an indoor range, four outdoor ranges 25, 50, 100 and 200 yards and a trap area, where sharpshooters fire at clay targets that are catapulted into the air.
Although the club is members-only, the ranges are open to the public for safety classes, matches and, on designated days throughout the year, target practice. The Boulder Rifle Club also welcomes the Boulder Police Department, the Boulder County Sheriff's Department and the University of Colorado Army R.O.T.C. for training sessions at select times during the month.
Despite attempts to provide services to as many people as possible, there are still individuals and organizations who can't use the range. As of this past week, there are 805 members in a club designed to accommodate 250, with more than 350 people on a waiting list.
"That is a good example of how much demand there is for shooting facilities and time," says Ralph Stoevener, owner of High Country Gunsmithing in Longmont. "I'll guarantee there is not a day that goes by that people don't call here and ask where they can go shoot."
If you're thinking to yourself, 'No, not in Boulder County,' think again.
The NRA estimates that there are more than 200 million privately-owned firearms in the United States, with approximately 45 percent of households containing at least one firearm.
Brady Campaign members throw out similar numbers, saying there are roughly 192 million privately-owned firearms in the country, with an estimated 39 percent of residences housing a gun.
And according to the ATF's Federal Firearms Licensee Database, 60 licensed firearm dealers, pawnbrokers and manufacturers are listed in Broomfield and Boulder County alone.
"I would say that more people own guns (locally) than don't," Stoevener says.
Which means that in Boulder, a city known for peace, love and all things politically correct, chances are pretty good that someone on your block owns a firearm.
Aiming to please
Grant Von Letkemann sits at one of the cafeteria-style tables near the indoor range, smoking a cigarette. The 63-year-old president of the club moves his arm in a semi-circle, taking in the surroundings.
"Be it ever so humble, this is our club," he says.
Lockers, magazines and a soda machine decorate the immediate room. Through the doors to the east is the indoor range, part of a larger hangar-like building in which he's relaxing.
Twelve fire points cater to small bore and handgun users who shoot at paper targets attached to plywood some 50 feet away.
"We have a fairly good plywood bill every year," Letkemann says good-naturedly.
The outdoor ranges are on elevated tiers of land, a couple hundred yards up from the hangar.
This complex is one of only two firing ranges in Boulder County. The other, smaller and less accessible, is near Table Mountain and is owned by the Boulder Rifle Club as well.
Statewide, there are six public ranges and 28 private ranges, relatively small numbers, gun owners say. Part of the reason for that, according to Letkemann, is the image that's associated with the sport.
"I think (people) probably picture us as redneck, beer-swilling Bambi shooters or survivalists," he says, adding that the perception couldn't be further from the truth. "The sport of shooting is a precision sport, whether people believe it or not. It's a lot of hand/eye and mental coordination to be a good shot ... it takes a tremendous amount of skill."
What residents probably don't realize either, Letkemann says, is that it's your doctors, lawyers, teachers, government workers and police officers who use the facility.
"It would be very difficult to pigeon-hole a gun owner or a typical member of the rifle club," says Jo Johnson, a database manager who lives in Boulder. "People don't seem to fit in a box like that."
It also would be tough to generalize the reasons people join the club. Many of the members are hunters and want to improve their accuracy.
Some are there to learn self-defense. Others simply enjoy the sport and the competitive aspect of matches.
The only commonality, members say, lies within a collective, and often fervent, defense of the Second Amendment.
Johnson says she was brought up around guns, though she didn't really become proficient until about 10 years ago.
She says it was part personal protection that contributed to her decision to join the club, but also an element of fun.
"There's something about a hand-held missile that finds its mark," Johnson, 50, says. "It's almost an extension of your hands, your eyes, your body."
Johnson owns a Ruger .38 Special as well as a Ruger 9mm P94, though she's not exactly forthcoming about that bit of information.
"Living in Boulder you feel very defensive about it," she says. "You do tend to be secretive."
At least outside the club.
When you're sharing the range, it's a different story.
The interesting thing about the sport, enthusiasts say, is that everyone is on equal footing, regardless of age or background.
"It was a lot of fun being a junior and beating a lot of the guys (in high-power rifle) who've been doing it for way longer than I have," says 18-year-old Daniel Hoffer.
The Morrison teen was a member of the junior program, which currently has 48 active participants ages 9-17.
Hoffer's current firearm of choice is an AR-15 (a civilian version of the M-16). Despite what many people think, Hoffer says his chosen pastime is not at all dangerous.
"It's the safest sport I've ever played," he says. "And I've played football, soccer and baseball."
Letkemann backs him up to an extent, saying that there have never been any injuries by one person to another at the club. But there have been situations, mostly when the range has been open to the public, in which people have cut open their foreheads because they didn't anticipate a gun's recoil. And in one instance, he says, a guy took the end of his finger off.
"We try very hard to keep it a safe facility," Letkemann says. "If you're unsafe, I take it very personally. And 'whoops' doesn't cover it."
On your mark
A series of short dirt roads lead upward from the indoor range to the outdoor ranges. Incidentally, the only bathroom, an outhouse with no running water, sits at the base of the hill.
Thousands of tires, piled on top of each other and hand-packed with dirt, demarcate each of the four open-air ranges. Earthen berms, intended to stop the bullets, back each one.
Picnic tables and gun racks stand nearby, with rabbits and other wildlife frequenting the area.
"They don't appear to be bothered by the noise," Letkemann says, adding with a laugh that it's probably because they're deaf.
Mike Walton, an English teacher at Cherry Creek High School, is leading the high-power rifle match on this particular day, calling out instructions and making sure everyone follows the rules.
"I wear about three hats," says Walton, who teaches firearms safety and is the junior high-power coach.
Walton says the morning's windy conditions make it extremely difficult for the competitors.
But that's what he likes about the sport.
"I've always been fascinated with things that are difficult," Walton, 55, says. "Some people can dribble a basketball and shoot baskets.
"I've always enjoyed firearms."
High-power is one of many match sports the Boulder Rifle Club offers.
Other competitions run the gamut from cowboy and defensive pistol matches to IPSC (International Practical Shooting Confederation) and indoor combat matches, where participants move through a course and shoot at multiple targets.
Again, you can compete at any age level.
Walton's youngest daughter, 17-year-old Rose, is an exceptional shot. She is one of only two women Master Class rifle shooters in Colorado, he says.
"She beats me regularly," Walton says happily. "It's a strange sport in which a little teenage girl can compete on level ground (with adults).
"The maturity one acquires is just incredible. She can relate to anybody."
Diane Nicholl, 50, a 15-year member and instructor at the club, agrees.
The longtime research scientist turned author loves how people in their 80s get along perfectly with those in their teens. Nicholl offers a monthly class just for women, incorporating wisdom from the book she wrote, "Teaching Women To Shoot: A Law Enforcement Instructor's Guide" (DTI Publications).
Like many club members, Nicholl grew up around guns, but she became more involved with their defensive aspect when a convict escaped from a local prison.
"That was sort of a wake-up call that bad things can happen in the world," she says. "It's not always your choice.
"I said I really needed to learn more about firearms for self defense."
In addition to Nicholl's class, the club offers the following NRA classes: basic pistol, basic personal protection, home firearm safety and pistol instructor, shotgun and reloading.
It's the law
How important is the Boulder Rifle Club to law enforcement agencies?
"Extremely doesn't describe it enough," says Sgt. Greg Schumann of the Boulder County Sheriff's Office.
The range Schumann and his fellow officers had been using just east of Lafayette closed down a couple years back, and the Rifle Club invited them to use its range free of charge.
"Essentially they saved our backsides," Schumann says.
Even so, the department is not receiving the optimum amount of training.
"Ideally, if we had more availability we would definitely use it," he says. "There's enough usage (right now) that I have to plan a year in advance to make sure we can get an adequate amount of time."
Boulder police chief Mark Beckner is in the same boat.
"Ideally, we'd certainly like to have more access to a range," he says.
But as things stand right now, he's just glad to have a place to go.
"As far as a resource, they're very valuable to this community," Beckner says. "Without the Boulder Rifle Club, we'd have a very difficult time getting our officers trained."
Both Beckner and Schumann have sought out alternatives, including opening up new facilities, but they've met with no success.
At one point, roughly five years ago, there was an initiative to open a new range on top of Table Mountain, but that proposal came under fire immediately.
"We were concerned about the noise, the threat and the traffic," says Jim Swift, a member of the Table Mountain Association, which was formed specifically to deal with the gun range proposal.
More than 100 nearby residents attended a meeting to shoot down (successfully) the range initiative.
But that leaves the county in something of a dilemma, at least as far gun owners are concerned, because there are only two safe, regulated places to shoot.
"And not having safe places to shoot is a public safety issue," says Ralph Stoevener of High Country Gunsmithing, adding that many people head up into Lefthand Canyon unsupervised. "It encourages misuse ... that is a mindless situation for us to be in."
On this particular issue, most anti-gun groups seem to agree.
"It would depend on the location and what the regulations were (but) if people would limit themselves to shooting in dedicated areas, it might be an improvement," says Betty Ball of the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, adding, however, that ranges "just encourage gun use, which is a disturbing aspect."
As for the Denver-based Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Brady Campaign, the topic of ranges is not even on their radar.
"Well, we have not gotten too involved with the whole rifle range issue," says Ted Pascoe, of Physicians for Social Responsibility. "It's not high up on our list of things."
John Shanks, regional director for the Brady Campaign, echoes his counterpart, saying that ranges haven't been an issue.
"We do not oppose individual law-abiding citizens," he says. "We believe that with gun ownership comes a great deal of responsibility (though)."
To this point, the Boulder Rifle Club, whose first incarnation was founded in 1923, has lived up to the responsibility. The club moved to its current location off 28th Street in 1977 and the only complaint on record, says Jim Burrus, media information officer for the County Commissioner, dates back to 1987, from a guy who ran a landfill operation near the club.
He contended that the club was dumping tires and trash on his property.
But nothing ever came of it.
Biting the bullet
For all of Jim Monserud's concentration during the high-power competition, his final tally was disappointing.
Out of a possible 800 points, which no one in the history of the sport has ever achieved, he put together a total in the 730s.
"It was a below average day," he says matter-of-factly.
As it was for a lot of people, due to tough environmental conditions, especially the wind.
But that's the beauty of the sport, Letkemann says.
"It's as much a game as anything else," he says. "It's just mind and body, working together to achieve the best you can.
Sounds like it's time to open another facility or three.
Probably can't due to some regulation or another. This facility is probably grandfathered.
I agree that making it a friendly place for women would be paramount - in general women take the responsibility very seriously, they make for steady repeat business and they are excellent for free word-of-mouth advertising. Key factors for attracting female customers are cleanliness and professionalism - i.e. spotless restrooms and well-groomed, polite employees.
Giving group seminars on firearm safety and practical self-defense would be greatly appreciated as well, I expect.
An indoor range gives a sense of a more-controlled environment, even though it's expensive to maintain.
What is it about firearms that give the average journalist a woody?
That's partially because most journalists only see firearms in action movies, where people just fire off a bunch of rounds without any real target acquisition.
They just don't realize that the more deliberate and gentle you are in aiming and firing, the better your accuracy is.
Sounds like it's time to open another facility or three.
Many communities are in the same situation or worse. In our case we have the only well equipped club in several counties (near Lexington, KY.) We have about 2500 members and a waiting list. Some years ago we relocated from an essentially urban location to approximately 2300 acres in a rural setting.
It wasn't easy to find a location where neighbors would accept us. We could not make such a move today without many more challenges - probably a battle through the courts.
IMO the next round of shooting ranges will be indoors, perhaps underground if they are to be near urban areas.
Stay well - Stay safe - Stay armed - Yorktown
I was wondering whether someone would think of converting an underground parking garage into a range.
It makes a lot of sense.