A brief visit to a world where shooting an AK 47 helps unwind after a stressful day at the office.
7 pm in downtown LA. The sun is setting on the mirrored skyscrapers and I’m about to shoot a gun for the first time in my life. And I’m terrified. A guy asks me for a light. His name is Carlos and he tells me he just got off his job and is here “to get rid of the stress”. Somehow, I get it. I mean, everyone needs something to unwind, to relax after a stressful day. A game of pool, a beer with friends or why not firing an AK 47 military rifle?
I enter the gun club and am greeted by an older, austere Mexican fellow. After filling in my personal data, I testify that I don’t suffer from any mental illness, drug addiction or have any criminal record. Confirmation? I guess they’ll have to take my word for it. There is a myriad of firearms to choose from. Pistols, rifles, shotguns, automatic revolvers. “Which do you want?” I have no idea; I leave the decision to the gun clerk who promptly hands me an AK 47. I’m sorry, I can’t resist – an AK 47! I’m really astonished now. Not sure if it’s because I am going to shoot this thing or because you can actually “order” something like this from the gun menu. Feeling a little sick, I decide to just browse around the club. A poster with this mean looking dude holding a pistol, saying “This is my Glock, there are many like it, but this one is mine”. I see an American flag and next to it a “break in case of emergency” glass cabinet… full of Glocks. Very revealing.
Inside the range, I jump at the first blast. A deafening sound, and a constant clanging of falling shells, discharge after discharge. Even with the ear muffs the noise is deafening. “Keep the guns pointing upwards when not shooting”. This warning makes sense when I look up and see bullet holes all over the ceiling. I try to keep cool, but I must confess I feel like an alien in this place. Coming from Portugal, where it’s rather unusual to even see a gun, discomfort kicks in. It’s somewhat disturbing when you think how easy it is to take someone’s life. Suddenly, we have company. Six guys in their mid forties enter the range. They seem to be in sort of a competition, just for fun. “Six rounds, gentlemen, six rounds only! Let’s go!” Later one of them tells me: “It’s an escape, a weekly hobby. We used to bowl, but now we found something else.” It strikes me as odd to put bowling and shooting at the same level of leisure activity. Eventually I gather all my courage and shoota weapon for the first time in my life. It’s spine-chilling. Quite the adrenaline rush, a kind of primeval experience. I guess that’s what the people are looking for. When I stop to think, though, I can’t say I really enjoyed it .
In Las Vegas, I later visited a gun store that also organizes tours. Gun Tours. The ad said it was a great idea for bachelor, bachelorette and divorce parties. If you want to celebrate, shoot a gun. What really impresses me is the normality of using guns in the US. In this part of the country, it seems like going to the gun store was as normal as going to the supermarket. Perhaps most telling is the bumper sticker I saw on a car: “Gun control is using both hands”. It seems to be the only real way to control it here.