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Fed's firearms facility fits at Fort Ritchie

May 22, 2000

Let me get this straight. Preservationists don't want to allow guns on a national battlefield because it wouldn't be authentic?

That is what's happening in West Virginia, where Sen. Robert Byrd, D-Deficit, appropriated $25 million for a federal firearms training center on 327 acres adjacent to the Harpers Ferry National Historic Park.

I didn't know that you needed $25 million for a shooting range. I thought all it took was a bale of hay and a poster of a deer with a bull's-eye on its chest.

But I guess there's a lot of difference between a "shooting range" and a "firearms training center" - and that difference would be roughly $24,999,996.50.

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The center would be built on land owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. I've heard of shooting fish in a barrel, but this is ridiculous. No one even knew about the project until - and this is beautiful - a park service employee poring over the federal budget happened to turn over a rock and discovered the $25 million line item.

A mere $25 million. Pooh. For Sen. Byrd, that's chicken scratch. When you build IRS administrative complexes and aquaculture research centers and Coast Guard headquarters, this kind of humdrum expenditure isn't even worth the good time and trouble it would take to scrape together a press release.

Can you imagine if Washington County ever got $25 million? For anything? No, forget $25 million, just $2.5 million. No, smaller still: $250,000. At least a half-dozen lawmakers would be hospitalized after falling over each other to claim credit. They'd be woofin' like Rin Tin Tin. But of course the only way we'll ever get money out of the sky is if D.B. Cooper finally comes down in Fairplay.

I know people in Harpers Ferry are down on the training center, but there's something I find appealing about attracting tourists. And then shooting them.

Besides, aren't they having trouble with encroaching developments in that area, which is the sacred site of the largest, most significant something-or-other of the Civil War?

Maybe Byrd is way ahead of the historians on this one. Nothing tends to discourage a homebuyer like stray ordnance whizzing past your head when you're repotting the begonias.

One other thought, and it's a good one, is that the federal marshals could revert to the days of flintlocks. This would do two things: 1.) Provide a little living history demonstration every time they're out on the range for the benefit of tourists. 2.) It would "level the playing field" every time the feds decided to raid some private residence. If David Koresh is going up against federal SWAT team members with black ATF jackets and muzzle-loaders, it makes things infinitely more interesting for us TV news viewers.

I know that our own congressional delegation would never think in terms of anything that would stand to benefit Western Maryland, but wouldn't this sort of thing have been ideal for Fort Ritchie?

First, it fits. Locating the mother of all shooting ranges in Western Maryland is like locating Brer Rabbit in the briar patch. Second, they've been telling us the reason Fort Ritchie can't be developed is that there are too many unexploded projectiles buried in the ground. See the harmony? Shooters wouldn't even need to bring their own ammo. They'd just paw around in the soil, then lock and load.

Besides, the Eastern Panhandle is getting enough projects. Couldn't they spare just one for us? Look at the disparity. They turn their railroad roundhouse into a work of art; we tear ours down. They host the Syrian-Israeli peace talks; we host the Quad-State Conference (although to be fair, both did about the same amount of good). They build training centers and factories. We build Wal-Marts and cell phone towers.

See Senator? Wal-Marts and cell phone towers. We even have something worth shooting at.




Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist

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