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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Granite State of Mind, #141: Exeter Sportsmans Club, Exeter

Does this post need a trigger warning?

There will be those who will scratch their heads at this entry. After all, I've never been a member of the club, and the only times I've visited have been in my capacity as an elected official. Some on the left might wonder at my profiling a gun club imagined orthodoxy would have me oppose, while some on the right might assume every Democrat is hell-bent to take their guns away. As is so often the case, assumptions about dogma based on calcified stereotypes are wrong on both sides.

The Sportsman's Club in Exeter is one of the oldest such entities in the country, having been founded in 1878. It's moved a few times, including a stay at the Exeter Country Club property. It now rests on town property alongside the Waterworks Pond off of Portsmouth Avenue. The club leadership is rightfully proud of it engagement with the community, including fishing derbies for the kids, mentoring scouts, and providing a place for firearm enthusiasts to gather and safely practice their sport. This is one of the things I like most about the Club. There will always be guns in the world, especially in a state like New Hampshire with its traditions of hunting and self-reliance. It's important to have places where ongoing training and education can happen.

During my last term on the Select Board, the Club's lease came up for renewal. I led the renegotiation for the Town along with Town Manager Russell Dean and counsel (and fellow selectman Matt Quandt). The resulting process was long, it was intense, and it was at times contentious. My intention throughout was to secure an agreement that served the needs of the Club while also protecting the Town's interests in both the short and long term. We discussed lead in the soil, noise impacts, and a host of other issues. I'll admit that I learned a ton, even while I was focused on crafting a deal that everyone could live with. I got heat from my far-left flank, from people who saw this as a potential opportunity to shut the Club down. That was never on my radar screen. These guys weren't some addled right-wing militia (though plenty of the members were certainly not my political bosom buddies). And I honestly believed - still believe - that the Town is better served by having the Club than not.

In the end, we brokered a deal that had a little bit of something for everybody to hate and a little bit of something to take home for Christmas. The process worked because the people in the room were willing to sit down and listen to each other and discuss the issues at the heart of the matter. There were some angry moments, some heated exchanges, and some mistrust to work through, but we managed to thread the needle and find the requisite good faith. It was exhausting, and not completely satisfying. But that's governing. Anybody who wants clean wins and perfect endings should stick to the movie theater.

Guns are going to be a political issue in this country for a long time. Imagine if we could sit and listen to each other instead of absorbing the messages of hate and distrust peddled by lobbyists and alarmists who profit from inducing hysteria. There's middle ground to be found. We just have to be willing to work to find it.

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