Checking the social calendar this week, Unda' the Rotunda noted a Tuesday afternoon "Day at the Range," the Fraternal Order of the Police event for Idaho legislators. Having never shot anything bigger than a paintball gun, this reporter figured he'd drive up and snap some picture of lawmakers with guns.
When I walked up to the table wearing protective earmuffs and eyeglasses, the plainclothes officer was skeptical of my credentials.
"Do you have something proving you work for the Boise Weekly? How am I supposed to believe you?" he asked.
Stuttering, I watched as Rep. Cliff Bayer, West Boise gunslinger, walked up and shook hands with the officer.
"You know this guy? He wants to take some pictures and write a story," said the cop.
"He looks like a shady character to me. He's probably press," Bayer responded. He recognized me.
"Well, do you mind if he comes in?" the cop asked.
"I guess now that you've put me on the spot, sure, why not ..." Bayer chuckled.
Dodging quips about liberal media and press in the crosshairs (Now don't tell your boss about this ... Stand up there by that target ... etc.), we stepped up to the folding table that held a pile of ammunition and a matte black Heckler and Koch MP5. Having only sported such a weapon in video games, the sleek steel barrel looked ominous and summarily badass.
Rep. Dick Harwood of St. Maries brought a bill this year--the Idaho Firearms Freedom Act--that sought to exempt locally produced guns and ammo from federal regulations, in an attempt to micromanage the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution. It would also task the state with representing Idahoans brought to court over the matter.
Though they opposed the largely symbolic gun bill, Democrats got in on the fun as well.
"They pitted me against Durst," said Boise Rep. Brian Cronin, speaking of Rep. Branden Durst, also of Boise. "I hadn't shot since high school, and I don't think he had either. I think Durst may have won ... After we were done, one of the police guys said, 'that's why Republicans fight wars' ... I thought that was a little harsh," he laughed (sort of).
Cronin and I spoke as the House was at ease on March 26, while he ate bean dip provided for the forthcoming "sine die," or "without day," party marking the end of the legislative session.
Back at the range, as Bayer flipped the safety toggle, I noticed his loafers and suit pants--he was wearing his legislative business attire under a Columbia jacket--while shooting the $1,000 machine gun. When he switched to fully automatic and sprayed a staccato burst of rounds, I finally understood Idaho, a place I've lived for nearly four years after moving from Washington state.
When I was a kid, Idaho meant hot summers and sprawling acres of farmland. I came face to face with a cow for the first time in this state. I didn't know what a potato cellar was. It wasn't until I moved to Boise and found myself peering down the sight of an assault rifle surrounded by my elected officials, that I realized Idaho is really a nation apart--a world away from the larger country. All the seemingly crazy bills about state sovereignty finally made sense.
Next station: 12 gauge shotgun and Noveske N4. After popping off bird shot with the shotgun, relishing the red cartridge ejected with each pull of the pump-action firearm, my shoulder was sore from lack of practice. The kick was a surprise and made me feel powerless in comparison to the machined metal tube that spit fire. Bayer stepped up to the target and promptly blew a hole in its head with six sprays of shot.
Back at the Capitol the next day, I watched George Eskridge of Dover attempt to swipe some of gun-toting Rep. Lenore Barrett's bean dip. Watching them joke showed a different side to the lawmakers who seemed cold, calculating and authoritative earlier in the session. Maybe they're trying to dismantle the state with the budget cuts. Maybe they're making the best of limited resources.
The real stars of the show at the range were Reps. Pat Takasugi and Marv Hagedorn. Takasugi, with a holster on his hip, practiced drawing his revolver and popping off shots at a Christmas tree-like structure with metal targets that pinged nicely when hit.
"I've got a few guns, I mean I come from a military background. I brought my Colt .45 with me that day," Takasugi said a few days later.
With the median age in the Capitol around that of Rotunda's mother, it's a strange place for a 21-year-old Seattle expat reporter.
With some fatal wounds to the target's abdomen, both from the buckshot and the full-auto MP5, this reporter netted a kill. Watching the legislators interact with the officers, with each other, with the press, you learn a lot about the lawmakers. They pander to lobbyists, they bicker with one another, but ultimately they do represent a cross section of the state. They are the folk they came here to represent--and just like Joe Idaho, they shoot first and ask questions later.