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Zoot Shooters Bring Gangster Style To The Gun Range

The world of competitive shooting can get pretty intense. But a Colorado business wants to lighten it up a bit. The American Zoot Shooters Association combines gangster costumes from the early 20th century with marksmanship.

At the Colorado Rifle Club east of Denver recently, AZSA co-founder and owner Jason "The Hustler" Huss was wearing a red pinstripe suit, a bright red tie and a black felt hat.

"[I] kind of look like a leftover reject from a '90s swing band," says Huss, pointing to a shiny silver wallet chain. "That's my hustler bling — probably not very period-correct. I just think it looks cool."

Jack "Machine Gun" McGurn holds his Tommy gun as he prepares to participate in the first caper of the day.
/ Darcy Varney for NPR
Darcy Varney for NPR
Jack "Machine Gun" McGurn holds his Tommy gun as he prepares to participate in the first caper of the day.

Huss says maintaining historical accuracy isn't all that important for the AZSA — it's more about dressing up in clothes you might see in a gangster movie and having fun.

The AZSA doesn't keep ongoing rankings for its members, like other shooting sports. The best you can do is win an individual match.

Huss says the collectible guns also are part of the fun. Most of the shooters have wooden carts to tote their weapons around.

"In my cart you'll see a semi-automatic version of a Thompson submachine gun," says Steve "G-Man" Fowler. "That's the Tommy gun."

Several zoot shooters own reproductions of the iconic gun with the round magazine drum. They're manufactured now by Kahr Arms in Worcester, Mass.

AZSA matches include "capers," which are like obstacle courses with targets to shoot. Each has a theme — a recent match included a shootout in an alley and a bank heist.

Fowler designed both capers, along with creative directions telling the "guys" and "molls" how to proceed through the capers and what weapons they can use.

"It's never called a shotgun in here," says Fowler, reading from his caper descriptions. "It could be called a 'street-sweeper' or a 'gauge.' "

The Tommy gun is often called a Chicago Typewriter — when shot at the paper human-form targets, it sounds just like an old manual typewriter. There are brown paper targets for the bad guys and white ones for the innocents or hostages — hit one of those, and it's a 5-second penalty.

"Our entire scoring system is based on time. Penalties are added time," says Huss. "Your goal is to shoot it as quickly and accurately as possible."

Compromising safety on the gun range can get you disqualified altogether.

Huss and his business partner, Henning "The Undertaker" Wallgren, started the American Zoot Shooters Association in 2008 in Colorado, and they've added chapters in Massachusetts, Tennessee, Texas and Italy.

Huss steers clear of gun politics and controversies. At matches, you'll see a few NRA stickers, but "The Hustler" says he hopes the sport continues to focus instead on having fun.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues and climate change. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.