My left hand felt like it was being stung by an overgrown, prehistoric demon bug, but my right index finger was already on the trigger and there was a target in my sights. I popped off a round, looked down and realized it was the brass casing from a cartridge, still burning after ejecting from the sniper rifle I was cradling like a percussive, sulfer-y baby.
Oh, right. Guns are tactile. Kind of forgot. I blame years of Operation Wolf. OK, fine: Revolution X.
Shoot Las Vegas isn’t a gun range in any permanent sense. It’s a mobile gun experience, a warren of temporary platforms, tents, tables and RVs set up, for now, at the Boulder Pro Gun Club once a month.
The hook is that the overwhelming majority of the 70-something guns in Shoot’s arsenal are tied, specifically, to movies, television shows and video games. In theory, this allows you to pretend you’re living in a shaggy Gus Van Sant remake—oddly set-dressed, probably unnecessary and definitely starring someone less talented than the original actor.
In practice, Shoot lets you laugh maniacally while you’re hand cranking an old-timey Gatling gun. OK, fine: not maniacally. All you can really do with the Gatling is sweep it side-to-side. It doesn’t exactly confer that Outlaw Josey Wales je ne sais quoi. Maybe they should’ve thrown in a hat.
To the latter point, though, Shoot does remind you that guns, at least in a target-shooting environment, can be a hell of a lot of fun. That’s not normally an idea you encounter at the intersection of guns and movies—the phenomenally goofy/deadly serious Lee Van Cleef/Clint Eastwood hat-shooting duel in For a Few Dollars More notwithstanding. But it does point the way to why they’re such an integral part of movies. You get all the dramatic tension that violence can easily lend, with none of the dreariness of your average knife-fight. Guns are violent, but mechanically simple.
Shoot founder Eric Brashear wasn’t even a gun guy when he started the enterprise. He was in corporate events and some friends invited him out to shoot in the desert on New Year’s Day. He liked it, became interested in movie weapons, and then started doing this setup a couple of years ago as private, corporate events, before bringing it public in April. When something grabs you, all you can do is shoot it till it stops … metaphorically. Please do not shoot an especially huggy aunt or the neighborhood octopus, no matter how many times you’ve seen The Little Mermaid.
As to the former point, though, it puts you in a different headspace when you consider some of your favorite iconic scenes. Shoot divides its offerings into six stations, one of which is for gangster flicks. The Tommy gun is listed next to a picture of Sonny at the tollbooth in The Godfather. It’s nearly perfect—except they give you a regular magazine and not the super gangstery drum magazine. They also keep it set to semi-automatic, so, again, you have to stifle your maniacal laughter. Another missed opportunity for hat-enhancement.
Squeezing off those rounds gives you a sense of the weight, the kick the weapon has. How well its sights work. You smell the powder. You burn your hand on the cartridge. You miss, a lot. It takes scenes you’ve watched a thousand times and makes them retroactively immersive. That moment needs the brute force of the Tommy. James Bond needed a Walther PPK—no other weapon was as smooth or sleek. Or had parts that would lubricate with either gun oil or vodka. (Pretty sure that’s a thing.)
When Sam Peckinpah released The Wild Bunch in 1969, people lost their minds. Even star William Holden had reservations about the violence in the flick. Watching it 40 years later, it doesn’t seem quaint, exactly. It’s still intense, but it doesn’t scan as ultraviolent as the karaoke bar fight in Kill Bill: Vol. 1. Or the Omaha Beach scene in Saving Private Ryan.
Peckinpah was frequently called to carpet for the way he deployed violence in movies. He earned the nickname “Bloody Sam” from critics. (“Bloody Mary Sam” would’ve been gauche.) But he didn’t do it without purpose. “The point is that the violence in us, in all of us, has to be expressed constructively or it will sink us,” he said. (“Pass me that bottle of mezcal,” he said, right after that.)
If violence under Peckinpah was purposeful, it was also brutal in a way that let you feel the lead in the gut. Modern movies are too violent. Not in the Helen Lovejoy “Won’t somebody please think of the children” sense—God knows I’m not giving up Goodfellas without, ironically, the threat of violence—but in the “you’re way overselling this” sense.
We all want to pile on chef Guy Fieri for being a cartoon character who takes things that are already awesome and piles on because ‘Murica! But we’re still letting Die Hard movies go to No. 1, and that’s after they had to up the ante from the one where a truck fought a jet.
That’s not a revolutionary thought, but it is nice, for a change, to appreciate the simple joys. The way the .38 would have felt in Holly Martins’ hand when he apologetically gunned down Harry Lime in The Third Man. The clattering menace of the rotating chamber on Harry Callahan’s .44 magnum in Dirty Harry. The monster kick of the 12-gauge shotgun in, uh, Hobo With a Shotgun.
Any pedantic movie buff can tell you that 1903’s The Great Train Robbery ends with a bandit firing a pistol at the audience. Apocryphally, the scene scared audiences so much they ran out of theaters. It could only play out like that in the last century. But you can still get closer to it if you’re willing to draw.
Noon, June 14, Boulder City Pro Gun Club, 12801 Old U.S. 95, Boulder City, $222-$999, 702-634-4867, ShootLasVegas.com.