Well, the CES Expo was a bust. We (me, my dad, my brother, and our friend Scott) spent an afternoon wandering through the (surprisingly uncrowded) halls, looking at things that seemed at best old and at worst not very interesting. Sure, some of the stuff was cool – Epson had a sweet miniature projector, and some of the upper-range Sennheiser headphones were mindblowing – but mostly there seemed to be a lot of stuff that no one was asking for. (Including no fewer than a dozen whole-house media solutions. Where’s the market for this? I like the idea of having speakers in the walls, but I would think that only a very few people right now have fifty thousand dollars to spend rewiring their whole house, just so they could listen to the same thing in the kitchen that they were in the living room.)
Luckily, we were in a city that exists for no reason than entertaining, and we started looking around for things to do outside of the conference. Riding back to the hotel in a taxi, my brother was flipping through a “Attractions of Las Vegas” pamphlet when he looked up at us. “Hey,” he said. “There’s a place in here where you can shoot machine guns.”
We made disbelieving noises, but he persisted. “Seriously,” he said, and showed us the page in the pamphlet. There was indeed a picture of a submachine gun, and below it, in bold letters, were the words: “TRY ONE OF THESE!”
We asked the cab driver if he knew the place. “Oh, yeah,” he said. “Kind of a tourist place. Not really that great if you’re a serious shooter. ‘Course, they’ll let you shoot almost anything.” He shifted in his seat. “You really want to shoot a gun,” he said, “you should join the military.” (His advice was unsurprising. He was listening to Sean Hannity’s radio show, and throughout the ride had made comments like, “There’s a lot of stupid people in this country. They’re called liberals.” And then, after a long, uncomfortable moment: “Boy, you sure can tell when people disagree with you. Nobody says a word.” At least he had a good sense of humor about it.)
Anyway, the next day we ended up at The Gun Store, on Tropicana Avenue, not far off the strip.
People from states where the gun laws are more lax than California or New York – like Nevada, or Arizona, or much of the United States – will have to excuse the disbelieving tone of this post. But gun control laws in California are quite strict, and the only guns I’ve ever seen being sold are either handguns or hunting weapons. To fire them requires a license, or at least a lesson. The automatic and semi-automatic weapons that are not banned are, then, just not very common.
So you can imagine our reaction upon walking into The Gun Store, which was literally full of guns. Not just handguns but assault rifles, submachine guns, Thompson guns, crowd-control shotguns, and grenade launchers.
The store was also full of people. Most of them looked just like us – relatively young, middle-class, and decidedly unused to the weaponry around them. We made our way to a counter along one wall. There were maybe six guys behind the counter, and they all had at least one handgun strapped to their waists. One of them turned his attention to us.
“Afternoon, fellas,” he said. “You lookin’ to shoot today? Good. Sign this sheet.”
He pushed a clipboard at us. As I was signing it, I realized that it wasn’t just a sign-in sheet – it was a waiver releasing The Gun Store from any liability in case of injury and death. I signed it and passed it to my brother.
Taped to the counter were descriptions of the various packages, and after studying them for a moment, my dad turned to me. “What do you think, the James Bond one?” he said, and after looking it over we all agreed that was the one for us.
The James Bond package included twenty rounds for the Walther PPK 9mm handgun, twenty rounds for the Steyr AUG assault rifle, and thirty-five rounds for the Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine gun. The package also included a target for each gun. The targets were posted along the top wall of the store, and in addition to the normal silhouette target we could also choose to shoot at: four Arab targets (one of which was Osama bin Laden, and two others of which wore turbans); two white targets; one black target; one Asian target; one Counterstrike-esque terrorist with a ski mask; and four zombies (one of whom was, in fact, an undead Osama). I badly wanted to shoot at the zombies, but the guy at the front just handed me three random ones, so I went with what I got. We picked up ear and eye protection from the wall, stood in line for awhile, and then were led by a friendly, crooked-tooth guy of about thirty into the shooting range.
Well, it was tremendous. At first we were jumpy and nervous – being around twenty or so heavily armed people will do that to you – but the gunshots were muffled enough in our ears that the atmosphere wasn’t actively unpleasant. My dad shot the Steyr first, while I went over with another employee and was handed the MP5. It seems somehow very wrong to me that the first firearm I ever shot was a submachine gun, but at least my lesson was comprehensive: “Square your feet,” the guy said. “Hold it straight out in front of you, take the grip here. Now, the gun is going to want to kick up, so aim low. Allright, give it a shot!”
I aimed and pulled the trigger, and with a quick brrapp I emptied six or so shots into the target (which had on it a serious-looking terrorist, holding a razor to the neck of an unconscious blonde). I jumped, but the guy gave me an encouraging smile. I aimed again and fired. A short time later the gun clicked empty and the guy brought the target close. I had killed the terrorist, yes, but also, unfortunately, the poor hostage. It would seem that my same problems from Area 51 plague me in real life, as well.
As I stepped back I realized that my biggest question – what would happen if someone just went crazy? – had an obvious answer. There was an incredible amount of firepower packed into the shooting range. One guy walked past me carrying a WWII-era Browning heavy-machine gun, complete with barrel tripod. If anyone had gone postal, there would have been hundreds of bullets in him seconds later. (In fact, I got the feeling that some of the employees were actively hoping for such an instance.)
The Walther was fun, with less of a kick than I expected, but when I went to shoot the Steyr it kept jamming on me. The employee leaned in close to Kevin, Scott, and I. “I think this one’s got to be repaired,” he shouted. “I’ll see if I have another one, but if we don’t, would you guys mind possibly shooting an SG 550 instead?”
We looked at each other and shrugged. He went off and returned some time later with what I think was a Swiss Arms SG 550 assault rifle. It was the most frighteningly easy gun to shoot I have ever seen. Even at the full distance, I hit the target in the head with every round. It had little recoil and was very quiet.
A few minutes later, rounds discharged, we exited the range. We stopped on our way out to get our complimentary t-shirt (mine says “I DON’T CALL 911” on it, above a pistol) and then left The Gun Store.
The amount of fun I had at the shooting range has been causing me a certain amount of cognitive dissonance over the past couple days. While I had a fantastic time, the idea of someone being able to go buy one of the weapons I shot (or anything close, really) is extremely unsettling. And while I do believe that the 2nd Amendment guarantees us our right to bear arms, I think that there should be lengthy waiting periods and checks to get those guns, licenses and classes should be required, and it should be illegal to keep the gun and ammo in the same place. (Especially if you have children in the house.) What I was able to do should, I think, simply not be legal. Which is why I don’t live in Nevada, I suppose, but all the same, the experience left me with some conflicting feelings.
It really was fun, though.