(ND) Bismarck armory opens firing range to legislators


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March 25, 2005, 10:15 AM
Bismarck armory opens firing range to legislators

By James Warden

Associated Press


BISMARCK - House Majority Leader Rick Berg is an experienced legislator, but he needs a lot of work at the gun range.

Since the Legislature began, the North Dakota National Guard has been opening its indoor firing range, located in its armory on the east side of town, for legislators to relax by doing some target shooting once a week.

Berg was among a group of lawmakers who turned up for Wednesday night's shooting. It was the first time during the 2005 session that he had been able to attend, and it showed. He was inconsistent with a pistol, firing too fast, with his rounds often off-target.

But Berg joked with National Guard Col. Robert Kilber and Sgt. 1st Class Dan Marquart, who were there to aid lawmakers, and posed, smiling, with a bullet between his lips.

"I've been wanting to come out since it first started," Berg said. "I just think that it's a different diversion."

Kilber said a night at the shooting range offers a chance for lawmakers to relax outside the Capitol pressure cooker.

The armory first opened its range to lawmakers in 1999. It had to close its doors to civilians during the 2003 Legislature because of security concerns, but the tradition is back.

Some legislators are regulars. During one recent session, Rep. Bette Grande, R-Fargo, aimed a National Guard .22-caliber Ruger at a fist-sized bull's-eye on a paper target 50 feet away.

She stood examining her paper target, which had nine holes. Grande had fired 10 rounds, and she was disappointed. "Where did that one go?" she asked.

The National Guard range was Grande's first introduction to shooting handguns six years ago. She does not own a gun, and uses one provided by the Guard when she does her target shooting at the armory.

She was afraid of shooting at first, but she's come to enjoy it, Grande said. She even got a concealed weapons permit - which has since expired - that she keeps as a souvenir.

Rep. Ole Aarsvold, D-Blanchard, brings a .22-caliber Browning target pistol and a Smith & Wesson .357-caliber revolver.

During the first shooting night of the session two months ago, Aarsvold was the only lawmaker who turned up. Kilber, Marquart and Master Sgt. Sam May watched Aarsvold when they weren't shooting themselves, teasing him good-naturedly about the occasional stray round.

The concentration that target shooting demands is relaxing, and helps him forget about political goings-on, Aarsvold said.

"In the Capitol, you feel some pressure from constituents, and sometimes from colleagues," Aarsvold said. "I'm a recreational shooter. I don't feel any pressure here."

At one session, Marquart noticed that Rep. Mark Owens, R-Grand Forks, was anticipating his shot and pulling up on his 9mm Beretta before firing. So he put Owens through a "ball and dummy exercise," in which Owens' gun was loaded with a mix of real bullets and dummy rounds.

Owens aimed the pistol and pulled the trigger. Click. No fire. Since he didn't know whether the weapon would fire, Owens said, he could check to see if his technique was correct.

"Sometimes I was anticipating, other times I was perfect," Owens said.

Legislators aren't the only ones with the chance to shoot at the National Guard range. On Thursdays, shooters ages 12 to 20 fire .22-caliber rimfire rifles as part of the Junior Marksmanship Program, said Tom Thompson, a member of the Bismarck-Mandan Rifle and Pistol Association.

The association sponsors the program with the National Guard. Guardsmen and club members teach the young shooters about firearm safety and introduce them to competitive shooting, he said.

"I enjoy coaching," Marquart said. "A lot of people like to shoot. A lot of people don't know how to shoot."

http://www.grandforks.com/mld/grandforks/11224961.htm

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