Democrats, GOP face off on shooting range Legislators' shootout raises money for conservation, anti-gun control group


GLENN DALE -- For the better part of six hours yesterday, nearly 30 current and former House members, and one senator, forgot about the gas tax and the minimum wage and even the sputtering Republican revolution. All they cared about was whether the bright orange clay bird was high or low, incoming or outgoing, or how they could hit the clay disks skipping across the ground like rabbits.

The lawmakers had journeyed to the Prince George's County Trap and Skeet Range, just 10 miles east but light years away from their marble-halled world in Congress, for a shootout.

"I don't know if we're going to win the House back or not, but we're going to win back that trophy," declared Rep. Bill Brewster, an Oklahoma Democrat who had the highest score of the day, but was on the losing team yesterday.

The competition was good-natured, but intense.

"I hate those rabbits; they zeroed me out," said Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican and recreational hunter who is one of his party's best shots.

Conversely, Rep. William J. Jefferson, a Louisiana Democrat with a so-so score, fared best with the simulated rabbits. That was probably true, he said, because he got his training as a farm boy who had to hunt to eat.

The purpose of this first-ever bipartisan challenge match was to raise money for the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation, a nonprofit group that advocates wildlife conservation and resists curbs on gun use.

(One contributor to the foundation has been Times Mirror Magazines, which, like The Baltimore Sun, is owned by Times Mirror Co.)

Sponsors of the events, who each paid $500 to participate, included more than a dozen representatives of gun and ammunition manufacturers as well as the National Rifle Association.

"There are two or three people here who don't vote with us," said Tanya Metaska, chief lobbyist for the NRA, attired in a 1995 Charlton Heston Celebrity Shoot-Out vest. "This gives us a chance to talk to people in a social setting."

Truth is, most the participants were moderates and conservatives with similar voting records. They were not, however, all equally skilled with a shotgun.

Rep. Jon Christensen, a freshman Republican, took up the sport just three weeks ago. He went out over the weekend and bought spiffy new equipment.

Yesterday, he was decked out in a bright red shooter's vest, complete with padded right shoulder and generous pockets for the shells. He wore protective goggles with tinted lenses, to enhance the color shade of the clay bird.

"I figured, if you can't shoot well, you should at least dress the part," he said. "It didn't help, though."

In fact, Brewster said, many skeet enthusiasts "wear tennis shoes, shorts, and they are pot-bellied. It's one sport where you don't have be a great physical specimen. It's all eye-hand coordination."

Another top Republican scorer was Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, a former Navy fighter pilot whose experiences formed the basis of the movie "Top Gun."

"It's just like shooting MiGs," Cunningham said, referring to the Soviet-made planes he shot down over Vietnam.

Yesterday's event was not typical congressional sports entertainment -- the golf, tennis and skiing junkets that have fallen into public disfavor.

Lunch was sodas and barbecue. Because of the new gift ban, the top scorer couldn't even accept a pen set for a prize.

"They've named me president of the Animal Defenders League, my score is so bad," Sen. John B. Breaux, a Louisiana Democrat, quipped at one point.

On this occasion, at least, the shooting match seemed a very male endeavor. Only one congresswoman took part: Democrat Karen Thurman of Florida. She was joined by Metaska and Sharon Wall, a recent past president of the sportsmen's foundation.

Republicans won, 388 to 370, although the Democrats were closing in fast at the end. That would be worrisome, Christensen said, except that the Democrats are losing their two best shooters, Brewster and Pete Geren of Texas, who are retiring.

But as chief organizer of yesterday's event, Brewster has determined that former members should be able to compete.

"We're going to have a lot of free time to practice next year," Geren warned.

Pub Date: 5/07/96

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