Within minutes of my flight landing, the plane was at the gate, the door was open and I was on my way to baggage claim. Like in every airport, there was a sign, about 30 feet inside the terminal, welcoming me to this city.
But this city was Las Vegas. Anyone who has been to Vegas knows there really is no other place like it in the world. So it came as no surprise to me that the ad, which was about as large as a four-foot square, would be unlike a welcoming ad in any other airport. It featured a very buxom blonde beckoning me to come to her place of business. Only what she was selling wasn’t a casino or a stereotypical Vegas strip club.
What she offered was immediately clear from the large automatic weapon
she held in her left hand and the message, “SHOOT A REAL MACHINE GUN!”
It was an advertisement for a place called The Gun Store. Forget the slots and blackjack felts, I knew where I was headed.
I don’t now, nor have ever owned a handgun, a rifle or an automatic weapon of any kind. As with nearly every American boy of my generation, I grew up playing Army, War, Cowboys and Indians and nearly every other game that involved running around in the backyard with squirt guns, BB guns and guns made out of cardboard. I built forts and defended them against my brother and other neighborhood kids. I learned how to mimic the sound of a machine gun with my mouth before I knew how to whistle.
Yet, I never graduated to real firearms. As I got older, I found my interest in and knowledge of America’s own M-16 automatic, the then-Soviet AK-47 and the Israeli Uzi became turnoffs for girls. I guess I figured out that carrying “my piece” in the back of my jeans would be a detriment to my getting a date for the junior prom.
My interest in weapons never waned though. Seeing that picture in the airport was too much to resist. One of the best parts of traveling, especially to someplace new, is finding something out of the ordinary, off the beaten path. Or, in this case, off the strip, because it turned out that the Gun Store was a good five miles away from the nearest casino, not counting the gas station with slot machines that was across the street. It was probably for the best as I would have hated to see a despondent blackjack player head for the store’s gun case after losing the rent by hitting on 17.
My friends and I took a cab from our hotel to the Gun Store. As if we
didn’t know the politics of the place already, a pre-election sign
reading “VOTING FOR OBAMA? SAVE TIME. DEPOSIT YOUR GUNS HERE.” with an
arrow pointing to a trash can that greeted us at the store’s entrance.
Something told me the Gun Store wasn’t used as a polling place in the
last election. We went inside. Display cases were full of pistols, with as odd-sounding names as Ikea has pillows. Walls were covered with the larger, automatic assault rifles and machine guns. Weaponry ranging from a World War II-era Tommy Gun to one of today’s massive .50-caliber sniper rifles that has a range of about 2,000 yards was all there for the shooting. It was like walking into Toys ‘R Us for gun fans.
My friend Brian went with the AK-47; Dan picked a 12-gauge shotgun. I was in mind for a variety of firepower. Believing that more is better, I chose the Coalition Package (aka, the Iraq Paq) that included three different weapons: the 9-millimeter pistol with 20 shots, the M-16 with 25 shots, and the king of the package, the M249 SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon) with 40 shots. I was ready to lock and load.
But even in the Gun Store, some rules had to be observed. One of the staff members was assigned to shepherd us through our shooting. He looked like he had probably fired off the entire Coalition Package for real in Iraq. Only one of us could shoot at a time; we had to wear ear and eye protection.
The first thing I noticed about each weapon was its weight. Each was heavier than it appeared when the staff member was handling it and explaining how to shoot the weapon. Forget anything in the movies or on TV that shows somebody running or jumping and trying to shoot at a moving target. That’s all fantasy. Even the 9 millimeter pistol required both hands to steady it and even then, it was hard to keep the gun properly aimed as I squeezed the trigger and fired at the Osama bin Laden poster that was my target.
I took out some of Osama’s chest with M-16 that was set to full-auto, and then it was time for the SAW. The SAW is a no-bull machine gun and just holding the thing let me know that damage was at hand. I steadied it with my left hand on top of it, looked down the sight and fired. I kept fireing. It seemed like I was working the SAW for about 10 minutes, but I doubt I spent more than 30 seconds blasting off my 40 shots and wiping out the rest of Osama’s center mass area. When it was over, I kept the poster and a Coaltion Package T-shirt as mementos of my time on the target range. It was more than I got from any round of blackjack; the best money I spent all weekend.
Rex Crum is a reporter and travel writer who has been to and samples
beers in 15 different countries. His BootsnAll Bio can be found here.