Shootin’, Smokin’ and Sippin’ with the Independence Institute

Shot after shot rang out in Bennett, Colorado, on Saturday as gun rights proponents took aim at an endless stream of clay pigeons — and also some less literal, still lethal shots at political adversaries.

The Independence Institute’s sixth-annual Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) party kicked into high gear June 28 as revelers gathered to celebrate bullets, booze and tobacco.

“We have one overriding purpose and that’s to piss off nanny-ist who want to take our rights,” Independent Institute President Jon Caldara told the record crowd of almost 200. “Now remember, a year from now President [Barack] Obama might make all three activities of smoking, drinking and shooting completely illegal. This might be our very, very last opportunity.”

Of course, Caldara has absolutely no basis in fact for making this claim — but hey, a big swagger is to be expected from this guy, among this crowd.

In fact, in complete contrast, on Thursday the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Washington, D.C.,’s handgun ban — which gave the libertarian and conservative marksmen even more reason to celebrate. 

Still, some expressed fear that gun rights are in peril. Michael Sabbeth, who has attended the ATF party for the past four years, said the four Supreme Court justices who disagreed with the majority opinion had him worried. 

“That such a fundamental right is so precariously maintained is cause for concern,” Sabbeth said.

Dave Kopel, a fellow with the Golden, Colo.-based think tank who helped prepare an amicus brief in the Supreme Court case, said he believes the court’s decision will become a cornerstone for gun rights augmented by future court decisions.

“In the long term, it means school civics and history textbooks are going to tell people they have the right [to gun ownership],” Kopel said.

Other shooters on the sprawling Kiowa Creek Sporting Club’s range southeast of Denver were less concerned with politics.

“They said there was going to be shooting, so I said ‘sweet,’” said Todd Hollenback, an Independence Institute intern.

Hollenback joined Weld County Sheriff John Cooke and first-time shooters Pete and Leanne Lepetsos in one of the small groups that moved between shooting stations throughout the morning and into the afternoon.

Pete Lepetsos, a Boulder County Republican, said he’d always wanted to attend the ATF party and finally got the chance this year when he won free tickets in a contest where his winning entry depicted Caldara, photoshopped, in a sun god-like pose overlooking the icons of the Rocky Mountain Region.

At the last station of the day, Cooke, who had been lending his gun wisdom to the novice shooters and overseeing the clay pigeons’ release, started naming each target, presumably after Democratic lawmakers — although he refused to use last names.

There were Bill and Hillary, obviously the Clintons. Joan, Ken and Andrew – who just happen to match up to certain Colorado Democratic leaders with the last names Fitz-Gerald, Gordon and Romanoff.  An orange, clay pigeon named Mark became the next target.

The Lepetsoses laughed as they tried to best each other’s rate of success in making contact with their targets – both hovering around 10 percent.

And Hollenback rubbed his right shoulder, sore from the kickback of the sheriff’s borrowed 12-gauge shotgun, and started shooting left-handed with some success.

Enthusiastic, but not a crack shot, Pete Lepetsos said he had a great time but didn’t think he was among the converted.

“I’ll probably keep the other two hobbies, the drinking and smoking,” he said.

His wife, who occasionally jumped at the sound of gunfire, said she enjoyed herself but would be more likely to develop a golf addiction than an infatuation with the shooting range.

“My nerves are going to be shot,” she joked. “I just thank God for the drinking part.”

After almost four hours of shooting, the crowd traded in the heavy gun smoke for cigar smoke, lunch complete with a wide assortment of alcohol and speeches by Kopel and Jonathan Hoeing, a conservative commentator and author.

In a page ripped from Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” — which is all but the libertarian’s bible — Hoenig told the crowd, “We’re witnessing, folks, a world of sacrifice to others run amok.”