Published in Tri-City Herald on March 1, 2014

LITTLEROCK — Representatives raised rifles. Senators slung shotguns. The midday air sounded heavy with gunfire.

This was no legislative floor debate gone awry, however — it was a good old-fashioned shootout.

Republicans and Democrats ditched budget bickering for friendly competition last week at the 2014 Legislative Shootout at a gun range about 12 miles southwest of Olympia.

The event, held on-and-off since the mid-1980s, featured legislators, staff and lobbyists hoisting handguns, rifles and shotguns for target and trap shooting.

Legislators were divided into four teams based on chamber and political party. A fifth team of guests, composed mostly of lobbyists, also participated.

Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, spent part of his day blasting clay pigeons into oblivion with a shotgun.

“I was a little disappointed in my trap shooting,” said Schoesler, his speech occasionally punctuated by other legislators’ gunshots. “I’ve been shooting all my life, so it’s always a good day to be at the range.”

Many legislators and staff squeezed in a few rounds between duties at the Capitol, resulting in an odd mixture of fashions.

There was Schoesler, wearing a denim jacket and camo hat with charcoal gray slacks and a dress tie. Adam Cooper, an aide to Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, fired a .44 Magnum wearing a suit jacket and neon orange baseball cap.

And then there was Rep. Luis Moscoso, D-Mountlake Terrace, wearing a black trenchcoat.

Some legislators brought their own weapons. Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, target-shot with a vintage M1 Garand. Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, brought along a Colt AR-15.

Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, took target practice, while Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, made a brief appearance but didn’t shoot because of his busy schedule.

“Truly, truly love that event,” said Klippert, who served as captain for the House Republicans.

As a patrol deputy with the Benton County Sheriff’s Department and a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard, Klippert said it’s his duty to be able to fire a weapon well, regardless of whether he’s trying to best rival legislators.

“It’s not so much that I want to beat the Democrats,” he said. “I just wanna be the best.”

Roach, who organized the shootout, said it would take a few days to determine the winners, who would all receive certificates honoring their excellent marksmanship.

All participants, even the less-than-accurate, received a “gun mug” — a chrome-colored, shootout-logo’d ceramic mug with a pistol grip handle.

The gun mug’s box urges drinkers to “lock ‘n’ load” with their favorite beverage.

A brief news conference on sportsmen’s issues was held prior to shooting festivities, and included speakers from the National Rifle Association, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Ducks Unlimited and Coastal Conservation Association.

Andy Treharne, western states manager for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, told the Herald that hunting, fishing and sport shooting generate an annual impact of more than $1 billion annually on the state’s economy.

Roach said every time someone buys a boat, firearm or ammo, or patronizes a shooting range, it has a positive economic effect.

More than 1.5 million Washingtonians bought hunting and fishing licenses in 2011, Roach said.

—; Twitter: @Matt_Benoit_