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Gunning for votes

By PHILIP EIL  |  October 10, 2013

The currency for the “2nd Amendment Celebration” were strings of $1 tickets sold at one of the tents outside of the clubhouse. One ticket bought you a Coke, a bottle of water, or a bag of Lay’s potato chips. Two tickets bought you a hot dog. Three tickets bought you a cheeseburger, or the chance to pop off a few shots with an AR-15 or a 9mm pistol down at the range.

Before heading to that range, though, guests were required to grab two sheets of paper. One was a double-sided safety refresher that included “Miscellaneous Safety Rules” (“Never. . . Climb a tree with a loaded firearm. . . Cross a fence with a loaded firearm. . . Jump a ditch or ford a stream with a loaded firearm”); the other, a waiver requiring a signature before guests partook in any Second Amendment-themed festivities. (“The risks include, but are not limited to: being shot by or shooting myself or others; partial or total loss of eyesight or hearing; inhalation or other harmful contact with lead or other contaminants; and being struck by flying or falling objects,” it read.)

Once folks signed the proper paperwork and received a hand stamp, they were free to hop on one of the golf carts zipping down a dirt road to the firing range. When they got there, they were greeted by the burnt-metal smell of gunpowder; the thunderous cracks of pistol and rifle fire, followed by the clink of spent shells on concrete; and a guy roaming around handing out protective glasses and earplugs. Here, the crowd broke into orderly lines — 10 or 12 people deep, in some cases — waiting for their shot with a .44 Magnum, an AK-47, and other firearms at various range stations. When it was their turn, they stepped up to be greeted by an orange-vested NRA-certified instructor, who asked which gun they wanted to fire, and whether they were left- or right-handed. Then when the person sat down, the instructor leaned in closely to show them how to hold the gun, aim, exhale, and fire properly.

“I have no idea what people would see [as] sinister or evil here,” chairman Smiley said while waiting in one of those lines. “These are people trying something that they don’t get to try very often. That’s all it is.”

One of those first-timers was Tara Sennick, a 21-year-old Woonsocket native who drove down with a handful of girlfriends from New Hampshire — where Sennick serves as the head of the state college Republicans — for the day. “I’m an NRA member, but I’ve never shot before,” she said with a laugh. “I’m into gun rights.” She had just come from firing an AR-15, which was “definitely fun,” she said. “The gun was a lot more powerful than I thought.”

Meanwhile, at a separate range on the other side of the SCRGC, other guests shouted “Pull!” and blasted shotguns at the bright orange clay pigeons that flung out from a small, low-to-the-ground hut about 20 yards down range.

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