"I Want to Shoot Guns!" – Phnom Penh, Cambodia

“I want to shoot guns!”

Not a particularly intelligent thing to have written on a piece of paper in Cambodia, considering the atrocities that have been committed here in the past. But it was with this, written in Cambodian, that another English guy and I set out to find the shooting range in Phnom Penh.

“Somewhere by the airport” was all we had been told. “Don’t aim too high.”

“Want to shoot guns, yeah go ahead, build it out by the airport.”

I don’t think they advertise it in any guidebook.

We headed out on a 250cc desert bike. If we made it through Phnom Penh city traffic everything else would be a breeze. They drive on the right. Mainly. It’s not uncommon to have someone coming straight at you on the wrong side of the road. At traffic lights both red and green mean “go”. Anything goes basically, just don’t have an accident.

As the traffic thinned out, needless to say we got lost. No such things as road signs in Cambodia.

Four times I pushed the piece of paper in some unsuspecting Cambodian’s face. One time I asked a soldier at a checkpoint. he just smiled and pointed us down the road. I actually had to move his M-16 to ask the question! I considered giving him $10 just to have a quick go out back!

We apparently drove by it once, then got the paper out again and were pointed in the direction from which we had just come. The sign was there all right: Special Forces. That was us. And a picture of a red beret – well we had bandannas on, but close enough.

We got waved in, right next to the go-cart track. People have a quick spin after letting lose with an AK-47?

We were the only punters, and had barely sat down and a menu was thrust in front of us. I was thinking coffee. Four cold beers appeared next on the table, then I studied the menu. Just like the coffee shops in Amsterdam, this was no ordinary menu:

AK-47 = $20
M-16 = $25
M-60 = $80

It listed maybe 20 guns, from machine guns and hand guns, to rocket launchers and grenades. We cracked the beers and worked out how much money we wanted to spend.

I mention AK-47’s and the guy has already got the clip loaded. You have 30 bullets, and the gun ready. He’s beckoning me into the range but I’m having none of it, I want to finish the beer first.

Two other guys turn up. Americans. Been here before. They start talking about how Cambodia has already changed, how it’s making laws now, how that ain’t right. “You used to be able to buy animals at this place to shoot at! A cow or a chicken.” Letting lose at a chicken with a rocket launcher – it used to happen. and it was cheaper. “Twenty bucks for an AK-47, it’s crazy – you can sleep with a girl in town for $10,” one of the Americans tells me.

His mate has already shot off his 30 rounds, and didn’t even check the target to see what, if anything, he hit. “Just wanted to say I’ve done it,” he says, with that they were back in the car and gone, to find some girls no doubt.

“You shoot now.” The instructor’s getting impatient, and he’s holding a loaded AK-47. I don’t want to annoy him. There’s no getting out of it: I’m at a shooting range, I got’s to shoot.

The loading of the gun sounds just like it does in the movies, solid metallic click. The gun is heavy and covered in oil. Ear muffs are supplied, and I’m holding the terrorist’s favorite weapon, an AK-47, loaded, with the safety catch off.

For some totally unknown reason I try to get the instructor to put the gun on automatic. There’s a real look of terror in his eyes as he says, “No no no! Too dangerous.” He points to the bullet holes – in the roof! Apparently, on automatic, the gun is hard to control, and if you don’t know what you are doing it can arc wildly into the air, sending bullets everywhere. Now if I had just told him I was a professional… He tells me if I just pull the trigger quickly, it’s just the same.

Thirty rounds was a lot, and with the gun resting on a table I fire off a few rounds. The recoil wasn’t that bad, but the sound – I though I had been shot, and I was firing the gun! After five or six shots, I realized I should close one eye to aim it properly. I think I was afraid of the gun kicking into my face. After 30 rounds the barrel was too hot to hold. It’s not possible what you see going on in all those films, the gun would melt. Mind you if someone else was firing at me, maybe I wouldn’t feel the heat blisters forming on my hand. But the smell of cordite in the air, that’s true enough.

We check the targets, which are 50 metres away, I’d hit the figure shape 22 times.

“You want to throw a grenade? Shoot a rocket? Fly a Tornado?” I made the last one up, but what a crazy place. The wall is covered with machine guns, not a lock in sight, and the table is littered with loaded magazines. We were free to pick anything up. Live grenades were shown around, like pass-the-parcel. I quickly gave it to the person next to me, I wasn’t going to be holding it when the music stopped! And for f**k’s sake don’t drop it.

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