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Home on the range, not at the ‘Deis

By Ariel Wittenberg

Section: Features

December 5, 2008

THE RANGE: Republican Arthur Serer ‘11 shoots a Glock pistol at the Manchester Shooting Range in New Hampshire.  Though Serer has never shot a gun before, he hopes to one day own one.<br /><i>PHOTO BY Ariel Wittenberg/The Hoot</i>

THE RANGE: Republican Arthur Serer ‘11 shoots a Glock pistol at the Manchester Shooting Range in New Hampshire. Though Serer has never shot a gun before, he hopes to one day own one.
PHOTO BY Ariel Wittenberg/The Hoot

On Nov. 4, a bus and two cars of Brandeis Democrats and their supporters drove to the small town of Raymond, New Hampshire to knock on doors in an effort to remind the town’s residents to vote for then-presidential hopeful Barack Obama.

It had been a warm day, about 50 degrees, and the leaves—seemingly foreshadowing the results of the election—had just begun to change.

The efforts of these Brandeis students were well-known around campus, and were written about in both student newspapers and the Brandeis-based blog Innermostparts.org.

On Nov. 21, four cars worth of Brandeis Republicans and their friends drove to the town of Manchester, New Hampshire to fire guns at a shooting range in an effort to have some fun exercising their second amendment rights.

It was a brisk day, about 30 degrees, and the leaves—along with Republican hopes of another four years with their chief executive in office—had already fallen.

The journey of these Brandeis students, unlike that of their bluer brethren, was not well-known. While the trip was open to the public (eight of the 20 students on the trip were not members of the Brandeis Republicans club), the event wasn’t publicized. A small facebook event was created, but those who attended heard about it mostly through word of mouth.

Barack Obama, beloved by many Brandesians, had polarized the campus—a place where it had already been uncomfortable to be a Republican, or even a moderate.

While the trip to the shooting range was planned long before Sarah Palin was the constant topic of many a Saturday Night Live skit, the students who went shooting that Sunday were afraid that in a post-Obama world, their actions would label them as embittered Republicans—clinging to at least their guns, if not their religion, in the last days of the Bush presidency.

So they kept quiet, a silent minority, huddling together in the Shapiro Campus Center at 8:30 on a Sunday morning to go shoot some guns.

Once in New Hampshire, however, the group exploded with excitement.

Cries of “I love America,” “I love New Hampshire,” and “live free or die” were repeated numerous times in reference to New Hampshire’s gun laws, which allow all citizens over the age of 18 with no criminal record or history of mental illness to shoot guns at a shooting range, as long as they show government issue I.D.

The gun shop located at the front of The Manchester Shooting Range looked the part. The walls were lined with rifles and the cases filled with handguns, all of various shapes and sizes. The range was being remodeled, but if it weren’t, a stuffed bear would greet customers as they walk in.

The Scarface poster that hung over the door to the shooting range would have seemed out of place if two of the more zealous Brandeis shooters hadn’t decided to rent two MP5 machine guns for the duration of the visit.

The rest of the group, most of whom laughed nervously at the machinegun rentals, rented less glamorous guns: two Ruger rifles, a magnum, an HK USP .40, a Glock and a double action revolver.

Many members had never shot a gun before, or even seen a real gun in person, but after an hour-long safety lesson, they went to the range.

Cowering against the back wall of the range, Miriam Glicksberg ’12, clad with protective eye and ear gear, keeled over at the first gunshot. In the stuffy, concrete range, the shot reverberated so loudly that an unaccustomed ear might mistake it for a cannonball being fired.

“I’ve seen a water gun before,” she shouted above the machine gun fire that followed, “but I want to learn to do this. I’m determined to get used to the noise.”

Glicksberg is from L.A. Her mom’s conservative, her dad isn’t. Neither of her parents have ever shot or really seen a gun, but Glicksberg wants to because it’s a Second Amendment right.

She said she’ a Republican because “it’s the right way,” and voted for McCain. Consequentially, Nov. 4 was “a sad day” for her.

When most of the Brandeis population was sitting in the Campus Center watching the election returns on a projector, Glicksberg, together with the rest of the Brandeis Republicans, was watching on a T.V. in someone’s room.

Even though the event held in the Campus Center had been advertised as a “bipartisan” one, once Obama was announced the winner and the chanting of the “Obama mantra of ‘Yes We Can’” had begun, the atmosphere was not very conservative-friendly.

Not that the campus usually is, according to Brandeis Republican President Naomi Cohn ’11.

Cohn, who had never shot a gun before and who was surprised to learn that machine guns really do spout fire when in action like in the movies, said she was a liberal moderate in high school, but coming to Brandeis has pushed her to the right. The campus is “polarizing,” she remarked.

“A lot of my moderate views are attacked here,” she continued. “On the Brandeis campus, you’re seen as either on the far left, far right, or apathetic. You’re not allowed to just be in the middle.”

Watching the election returns at the Shapiro Campus Center “wasn’t the most comfortable atmosphere” for the Republicans, she said.

They knew that McCain probably wasn’t going to win, and knew that if he didn’t, or even if he did, they would be faced with even nastier comments than they had received in the past.

One senior republican shooter wished to remain anonymous because his friends were under the impression that he had voted for Obama. Though they knew he was a Republican, once Obama had won the Democratic nomination, this senior said, he stopped discussing the election because he was met with such animosity. Many interpreted his silence as an indicator that he voted for Obama.

While he maintains that he has not lied to anyone about whom he voted for, he has made no effort to correct his friends’ impressions.

“It’s a lot easier this way,” he said. “Republicans at Brandeis have had a rough time this month, worse than the rest of our Party.”

This sense of misunderstanding is at the core of why the Republicans did not widely publicize their event. They were afraid that the stigma that guns have at Brandeis, one that has intensified this past year with the arming of campus police, would label them as “stereotypical republicans.”

Andrew Brooks ’09 didn’t even tell his Republican parents that he was going to the shooting range for fear of what they might say, let alone his Brandeisian friends.

One junior at the range wished to remain anonymous precisely because of the stigma that comes with shooting guns.

“I’m well versed in guns, but that doesn’t stereotypically line up with my political beliefs,” said the liberal who voted for Obama but also grew up shooting guns in rural New Jersey. “I don’t want people to think I’m a gun toting loon.”

While the junior said that at the range he felt he was “among friends” who would not judge his actions as incongruous with his political beliefs, he feared that the rest of the Brandeis population would not see it that way.

He did, however, point out that the members of the group who had the most experience with firearms were Democrats or moderates—not Republicans.

Haley Baron ’11, from Colorado is one such moderate. Baron, who defines herself as a moderate liberal, had shot a rifle a few times before coming to the range with the Republicans. She said that the junior’s concerns were valid, even though she herself didn’t think it was necessary to remain anonymous.

“No one here thinks that all people should own all sorts of guns,” she said. “No one wants machine guns and firearms out on the streets, but Brandeis students won’t understand that.”

“It all depends on how Brandeis students interpret this trip,” Baron continued. “If they see it as a just a bunch of kids who went shooting, they’ll just be like, okay, sounds like fun, and let it go. But if they hear that the kids went with the Brandeis Republicans, they won’t think it’s about fun, they’ll think it was just to make a point about Second Amendment rights.”

Baron also noted that the club’s trip will get even more of a negative reaction once students find out that the trip was, in part paid for by the Student Union F-Board, which reimbursed drivers for gas money and paid the $300 fee for renting the range. Participating students had to pay and average of $20 out of their own pockets to cover the costs of bullets and the rental of protective eye and ear gear.

The feeling that Republicans are misunderstood at Brandeis is not a new one. The members of the shooting trip, both liberal and conservative, said they have seen the misunderstanding for a while now.

What is new, however, is the animosity.

When he came to campus this fall, Jordan Rothman ’09 put two “McCain for President” stickers on his door. Within two months, both were vandalized. On one, the words “for President” were crossed out, and replaced with “sucks.”

On the second, the entire message was overwritten with the words “douche-bag homophobe.”

Other Republicans present said that the issue of same sex marriage has been a particular area where their views are not tolerated.

“We’re not gay bashers,” one student said, “but believing in civil unions instead of same-sex marriage just isn’t seen as acceptable on this campus.”

A few years ago, the Brandeis Republicans tried to hold a “conservative coming-out day” and were met with reactions seething with indigence that they would compare their struggle within the Brandeis community to that of homosexuals around the globe.

While some Republicans admitted that the “coming out day” might have been taking it too far, the intolerance on a campus that prides itself on liberalism and accepting others renders them disappointed.

But they are not quite discouraged.

As the shooting came to an end, plans to start a Brandeis Shooting Club were discussed. The club, which would be open to anyone, would be called AFY—an acronym that would officially stand for “Arms For Youth” but that would unofficially stand for “America, Fuck Yeah;” the theme song of the 2004 film “Team America—World Police.”

As Cohn, the President of the Republicans, put it the campus conservatives “are trying to be proud on a campus that expects stereotypes.”

So when the shooting range fell quiet, both bullets and dollars spent, the only sound to be heard was the whir of the fishing line, pulling in Republican Arthur Serer’s ’11 target.

The target, which featured a human silhouette, swayed back and forth as it whispered its way to the front of the range through the stuffy, gun-smoke ridden air that tasted sweet and chalky and smelled burnt from an hour of barraging bullets.

When the target arrived, Serer starred at it for a moment, surveying the myriad of holes he had pierced through the thick paper.

One bullet had hit the fist-sized red area at the center of the target’s chest.

Bull’s eye.

Serer unclipped his prize, and began to walk out of the now silent range.

“Dude,” he said, “I’m definitely hanging this up in my room when I get back.

Editor’s Note: Jordan Rothman is an editor for The Hoot.

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