Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Shoot a machine gun, Raise money for the GOP

GOP fundraiser to feature machine gun shoot

New Hampshire Union Leader Staff
Tuesday, Jul. 24, 2007

MANCHESTER – City Republicans will be packing some serious firepower at their next party fundraiser.

Tired of the usual chicken dinners, the Manchester Republican Committee is planning to arm supporters next month with Uzis, M-16 rifles and other automatic weapons for a day of target practice at a Pelham firing range.

"The thought just struck me one day: a machine gun shoot. What the heck?" said Jerry Thibodeau, the committee chairman.

Thibodeau, who is himself a hunter and skeet shooter, pitched the Aug. 5 event as a fun social gathering, as well as a demonstration of the party's support for Second Amendment rights.

The concept prompted shudders across the political aisle. Chris Pappas, the city Democratic party chairman, called the event "not just in poor taste; it is downright offensive."

"The citizens of Manchester have lived through a deadly spike in violent crime the past year-and-a-half, despite the campaign promises of (Mayor) Frank Guinta to lower crime rates," Pappas said. "That the mayor's political party would seek to glorify the use of machine guns for political gain is unconscionable."

The GOP fundraiser will be held at the Pelham Fish and Game Club. Proceeds, Thibodeau said, will be split among the party, the club and the gun supplier.

Republican party leaders are hoping for a strong showing of both novices and experienced shooters. The cost to participants is $25, plus fees for ammunition and parking.

Each of the Republican Presidential candidates was invited, Thibodeau said, but all declined, saying they'll be busy preparing for the following weekend's much-ballyhooed straw poll in Ames, Iowa.

"I really tried to get Rudy Giuliani there," Thibodeau said. "Because I'll tell you, this is a guy that can't relax."

Bob Shaunessy, who chairs the Pelham club's class-3 weapons committee, says he expects shooters will get to select from a range of submachine guns, including Uzis, MAC-11s and Swedish K's, as well as M-16 and AR-15 rifles.

Twenty safety experts, called "range officers," will be on hand to load the guns and monitor the shooters, Shaunessy said. On-site instruction will be required for all participants.

"My first and foremost goal is that everybody who walks in walks out," Thibodeau said.

Few may be more excited about the event than the man who conceived it.

Thibodeau, who recently celebrated his 60th birthday, said he has not fired a machine gun in 40 years.

A Seacoast native, Thibodeau was exposed to guns at an early age. His father, he said, was a machine gunner in Guadalcanal during World War II.

Thibodeau's own experience with machine guns began at 18, he said, when a friend and his father took him out to fire rounds in a sand pit.

The experience, he said, was powerful.

"It's a way of expressing yourself, I guess," he said. "We all have a little testosterone in us, right?"

And yet, he said, many of the people responding to the event advertisements have been women.

The city committee's executive director, Kelly Hurst, said she, too, is excited about the chance to fire a machine gun for the first time.

No stranger to guns, Hurst said she carries a small pistol for personal protection, but notes, "I've never felt a need to carry a machine gun down the street with me."

"It's very different," Hurst said. "I don't know when anyone else, man or woman, may get an opportunity to do this."

Manchester Republicans have several other social events in the works. The committee recently launched a monthly mixer, known as "Thirsty Thursdays," at Murphy's Tap Room on Elm Street.

Other events are more family-friendly. A Sept. 16 rally at Veterans Park will include face painting, rock climbing and, Thibodeau said, an inflatable "moon walker."

"It's about people meeting people," Thibodeau said. "Get the heck away from the computer, get the heck away from work. Come on out and talk to people."