I’m shooting things with an automatic weapon for fun. This, despite the recent— ongoing—stretch of public massacres across the nation: Empire State Building, Wisconsin Sikh Temple, Colorado movie theater. Right now the victim is Howie the Clown, whose scary picture I am shredding with bullets from a real AK-47 machine gun in The Gun Store, after giving in to the relentless billboards urging me to “Try One.”
Why isn’t this nerve-wracking adventure unsettling to society? I’m a very moody person, after all. Not that anyone asked, or ran a background check. Marketing for machine-gun candylands is on the rise, despite this most recent string of real, fatal mass shootings. Maybe it’s because we’re absurd people enraptured by the incendiary mix of a free market and the Second Amendment, stand-your-ground laws and bored-kid, video-game-inspired, thrill-seeking quasi-reality. Or we just like to shoot things.
So with the squeeze of the trigger, I go from jumpy peacenik to adrenaline-fueled killing machine. It happens that fast. One minute, I’m selecting my target, worrying that one of the dozens—dozens—of bucket-list shooters in this building will screw up and maim me. The next minute, a baby-faced range instructor hands me a deadly weapon and tells me to listen for his instruction to fire, which will be, “Die motherfucker, die!”
I can’t see shit. I’m nearsighted even with contacts, and the scratched-up plastic eye guards aren’t helping. But it’s too late now, with scads of taxied-in tourists standing in a Disneyesque line outside, clutching their rolled Taliban targets and feeling homicidal.
Die motherfucker, die! I pull the trigger. Boom boom boom boom! Bullets are spraying downrange, I hope, and death is so stupidly near, and my body jolts with every holy-shit round, and then—it’s over. Fifty bucks for 50 rounds. I am now an accomplished paper-clown killer. Check.
In addition to The Gun Store, which is three miles off the Strip, a slew of newer ranges are clamoring for market share—Discount Firearms, Guns & Ammo Garage, Machine Guns Las Vegas. At the latter, $129.95 gets you the “Mob Package,” which includes shooting a Tommy gun, a suppressor-equipped pistol and a shotgun, plus a souvenir T-shirt.
To be honest, I had planned this little assignment before the Aurora movie-theater shooting and the Sikh temple shooting, but well after the Gabby Giffords, Virginia Tech and Columbine shootings—somewhere in that presumably more socially acceptable time zone for festive automatic-weapons firing. I was intrigued by the growing machine-gun businesses in Vegas, and assaulted by advertisements and news releases like the ones from Machine Guns Vegas: “Whether your firepower fantasy leans toward fighting terrorists … or simply experiencing in meatspace what you’ve only fired in X-Box Live … there’s bound to be enough adrenaline-surging opportunities.”
Just before the the Aurora shooting, Forbes.com and The New York Times had taken note of the shoot-for-fun trend in Vegas, which is one of few places in the U.S. where firing fully automatic weapons is legal. And, trend-watchers say, shooters are increasingly impulsive thrill-seekers rather than arms enthusiasts; influenced by gun-loving movies, music lyrics and video games—that is, prompted by the non-meatspace world.
Setting aside mind-boggling sociological implications in favor of big business is pretty much Vegas’ style. I get that. There’s a line between fantasy and reality, right and wrong, fun and stupidity, and everyone is clear on precisely where it is. I recently saw a bumper sticker that explained, “Blame the finger, not the trigger.”
It was stuck behind the bar at the Little A’Le’Inn in Rachel, Nev., on the outskirts of Area 51, where people travel from around the world to eat alien burgers.