Ezy Reading: The Automatics Are Up And Runnin' ... Come On Down!

Evan Kanarakis

My mother was in Las Vegas this past week, a dangerous proposition given she doesn't mind having the odd bet, but from all reports she seems to have managed to get out of that most glorious of hellholes relatively unscathed.

Memories of my most recent trip to Vegas a few years ago are a tad more hazy and battle-scarred. I was travelling with my buddies Marty and Pells, and while we were ostensibly on our way to Spain for a friend's wedding, we figured to take in a little road trip through the US beforehand with Vegas as our chief highlight (believe me, international high-fliers we weren't. This was a rather uncharacteristic high-roller journey in which we'd decided to live well beyond our means and lean heavily upon the good folks at VISA and American Express for support, consequences be damned). While it wasn't a Vegas experience of Hunter S. Thompson proportions, it is a tad alarming that the majority of was a drunken blur of blackjack tables, nightclubs and excess, only interrupted occasionally by a 5am visit to one of the endless 24 hour buffets dotted throughout the city. Typically they're hosted by oversized ladies called 'Betty' or 'Katie-Lou' who are working double'shifts, supporting eighteen children and a husband called Skip, and tend to want to linger for five hours at the table to tell you all about it while the only thing you're trying to do is decide whether it would be best to vomit first and eat the pancakes second or the other way around. The experience wasn't helped by the fact that we'd decided to save at least a few dollars and stay in the Circus Circus casino instead of somewhere more up'market. Returning to your hotel at daybreak and severely under the weather only to confront a casino floor still packed with hundreds of punters and an entire team of circus clowns in full flight 'blowing balloons, riding unicycles, honking horns, you name it' is a surreal sight to say the least.

But beyond a trip to the nearby Hoover Dam (essentially a self-imposed exile from the city for a day so that our bodies and wallets might be allowed some recovery) I've only one crystal memory of the entire Vegas vacation. That memory, of a place at once both terrifying and, in a strange sort of way, exhilarating, is of the Gun Store.

I'd first heard of the Gun Store through a tattered old tourist guide, but had also been informed, in secretive whispers from locals, that the Gun Store was indeed the place to go for the complete Vegas experience. Apparently the Gun Store was essentially nothing more than a shooting range, with the exception being that (a) if there was a gun in the world you wanted to shoot, they probably had it, and (b) the guys who ran the place were certifiable.

Now I think it's safe to say I'm something of a pacifist and certainly not a 'gun nut' in any way, nor were my travel companions. Growing up in the country and having attended my high school's cadet corps I'd certainly handled and shot rifles in the past, but I'd never gotten especially excited about the whole thing beyond enjoying the skill involved in target shooting. I'd never been interested in hunting, I didn't spend hours poring over 'Bullet Love' magazine, and I certainly didn't have dozens of bumper stickers on my car that read things like 'I slaughtered deer in '98' and 'God Owns a 12-Gauge'. Still, the idea of being able to shoot whatever weapon we wanted at a minimum of cost was something of an attractive novelty, and so we figured to at least look into things. With my friends nearby I decided to give the place a call from our hotel room. After a few rings someone picked up. All I could hear was sporadic gunfire and screams of delight until, finally, a 'Hello?'
Tentatively, I asked, 'Um... is that the place where you can like... shoot guns and stuff?'
As the gunfire in the background began to reach fever-pitch I waited for the reply and then:
'Woo'Hoo!! The automatics are up and running, baby, rock and roll! Come on down, lock and load, woo'hoo!!!'
And then he promptly hung up.
Somewhat confused, I put down the receiver.
'Well?' asked Marty.
Still unsure of things all I could offer was, 'Well... I think that was it. They're... they're definitely open.'

Fifteen minutes later we were humming along Tropicana Avenue in our rental car and pulling up to the Gun Store.

Once inside, we surveyed the surroundings. The first thing that instantly caught our attention was the constant thunder of gunfire. Fairly hard to miss that, along with the intermittent screams of 'Yeah, baby!', 'Yes boss!' and 'Kill that freaking' target, baby, c'mon!' Next up, directly in our field of vision, perhaps thirty automatic weapons mounted on two walls behind the counter. Below that, three cabinets full of handguns. Even as I eyed the 'FOR DISPLAY PURPOSES ONLY' sign next to a bazooka hanging nearby, I realised the rumours were true. They really did have every gun imaginable in this tiny store.

'What can I do you for, folks?' asked the burly man behind the register.
'Um... we're here to shoot the guns... and stuff' I offered.
'Well', he explained, 'You've come to the right place. So long as your ID's are in order, all you need do is pick a weapon, select a target, and just pay for your ammo before we take you into the range and show you how to load and shoot. Then you're off, and it's time to''
'Rock and roll?' I asked tentatively.
'You got it, baby! Rock and roll!' he replied enthusiastically with a pat on my back hard enough to leave a small crater on the moon.

Though we figured there might at least be something in the way of a background check involved, apparently in Vegas it's all fairly flexible when it comes to things like putting weapons in the hands of hungover young men of questionable character, as our Australian licences did the trick. In fact, the only real assessment that took place involved the shopkeeper briefly flicking through our licences before declaring, 'Well, these seem to be in order... Australia, huh? I heard they took away your guns...'
'Yeah... Yeah that was rough', Pells agreed, in perplexed tones.
Excellent. Terrifying and excellent, I thought, as flashbacks from Deliverance shot through my head. These men are possibly going to kill us.

Within moments we were eyeing the various weapons on offer as the shopkeeper waited for us to make our choices.
'Um, I'll take the Glock' said Marty.
Pells laughed. 'Well I might as well take the Magnum.' He angled at me innocently. 'I mean, why the hell not, right? When in Rome.'
I looked up from the pistol cabinets to the wall of automatics and spied my favoured option. Pells was right. When in Rome. I'd always enjoyed gangsta rap, plus it was just about the only weapon name I recognised.
'And I'll have the AK-47, thanks.'
'Fine choices', said the man, and we bought our ammunition.

Then came one of the most disturbing aspects of our experience that day.

'Time to choose a target, boys' ordered the shopkeeper.

Pinned up on a nearby board, about twelve different varieties of targets. There was your standard 'dartboard' style target, the outline-of'a-'human-with-the internal-organs-highlighted target, a man-pointing-a-gun-to-the-shooter target, a man-with-a-hostage target, a woman-pointing-a-gun-to-the-shooter target, you name it, the Gun Store had it. There were plenty of different types to choose from. However just as we were about to make our selections the man added, 'Oh, just one thing, we're all out of the women.'

We cast our eyes below the targets. Underneath, piled high, were perhaps three hundred or so target sheets available for each and every target. Except for, as the man had informed us, the target featuring a woman. There, sandwiched in between a couple hundred 'terrorist-themed targets and the 'internal organs' target, the slot available for sheets featuring a woman with a gun was completely empty. Not a one. Dry.

God Bless America.

Undeterred, we now took our weapons, ammunition and targets (I chose the organ target in honour of the hit my liver and kidneys had taken that week) and were led into the shooting gallery. There we were given earmuffs and introduced to our guide. Big, beefy, he was an exact duplicate of the guy out front, right down to the fact his vocab didn't extend much beyond whelping and screaming, and saying things like 'rock and roll!' and 'fuck, yeah!' at the top of his voice.

There were five other people in the shooting gallery. Three South Africans 'tourists, like us' and two young men. Armed with long rifles and situated at the very far end of the gallery, though the young men were, by law, at least 21 years old to have been allowed on the premises, they looked barely sixteen. Pimple-faced and wearing long black trench coats and beanies, their whole 'Columbine chic' fashion statement was not lost on us. We didn't take our eyes off the potential lunatics the entire time. Just in case.

In any event, the instructor informed me I was first up and showed me how to set up my target in the shooting range. Here we were genuinely surprised, as we'd expected there would be some fairly close monitoring of our every move when handling loaded weapons. Instead, the man merely showed me how to load the A47 and remove the magazine when needed, showed me the on/off switch for my safety, and how to alternate the weapon between semi and fully'automatic gunfire. Then he took a step back. The rest was up to me.

'Take it away, baby!' he screamed as he pressed the button that sent my organ target out into the range some twenty metres away.

I took a deep breath, held up the weapon and made aim for my target's heart. Slowly, I flicked off the safety and prepared to shoot.

'Oh, wait a sec!' beckoned the instructor. 'Pull your hand back down the muzzle a bit as you might shoot your hand off if you're not too careful. At the very least could burn it up pretty good, he he...'
Stricken with terror I cherfully laughed along and thanked him for that stellar, last minute advice.

Duly noted, I once again took aim and gently squeezed the trigger.


With one shot, the tip of the weapon jolted upward, and almost sent me reeling. Not only that, the weapon was loud. REALLY LOUD. And I'd missed my target completely.

I turned to offer Pells and Marty a nervous smile. Ashen with fear, they were visibly trembling. Somewhere in the haze of gambling, drinking and having a roaring good time, I was now standing in front of them with a loaded AK-47 in my hands. Welcome to Vegas.

Steadying myself, I faced the target again and took another shot. And then another. Abruptly, through the heavy padding of my earmuffs I made out the blurry exclamation, 'Flick that motherfucker onto fully'automatic, baby! Rock and roll!'

Swallowing hard, I flicked the weapon to fully'automatic and pulled the trigger.


Within moments the weapon had completely taken control of me, spewing out bullets at a rapid pace, all the while fighting to aim at the ceiling instead of the target. The first magazine empty, I summoned up the courage to eagerly slap in the second magazine and made like Ice Cube in 'Boyz n the Hood' (with the exception being that I didn't feel compelled to cry things like 'You killed my brother, punk-ass!' at my target). About seven seconds later I now had a crazed look in my eyes, the magazine was empty, and I'd accidentally shot the frame holding my target in place, thus effectively closing that particular shooting lane for repair.

But I have to admit it: There was something incredibly exhilarating about unloading that AK-47 even as I had a redneck in my ear screaming 'Kill it! Yeah! Aim for the lungs!' the entire time.

The AK-47 ammunition depleted, we now moved (ahem, into another shooting lane) for the handguns. Here, the instructor merely showed us how to load and unload the Glock and Magnum, and then announced he'd leave us with our box of some sixty or so bullets to shoot away at our heart's content. And then he really did leave. He left us unattended with two loaded handguns and a box of ammunition to spare. The mind boggled, and we politely waved at the Columbine kids who were now high-fiving each other and uttering something about 'if you drink the blood it will set you free.'

With a reassuring nod from the South Africans to our left who were calmly laying waste to their target with a World War Two era Tommy gun, Pells loaded the Magnum, took aim and squeezed the trigger.


If the AK-47 had sent me reeling it was nothing compared to the impact of this, the most powerful handgun in the world. It really was, as they said, a mini-cannon. Pells was so surprised and jarred by the shock of just shooting one bullet out of the Magnum that he had to put down the gun for a moment, wipe the sweat from his brow and turn to us with an exclamation of 'OH MY GOD.' It was a good five minutes before he could gather himself together to have another go. The gun was that impressive that the rest of the gallery (Columbine alumni included) actually even stopped shooting for a time so as to come and watch us squeeze off shots from the crazy weapon. By the time we got to firing the Glock it was a peashooter compared to what had come before, and so made quick work of the remainder of our ammunition.

Content we'd received more than our money's worth, we thanked our instructor and shopkeeper, watched as a small group of gun enthusiasts entered for a class in 'firearms concealment' (!) and made our way back to the hotel, exhausted by the ordeal.

If you've never had the chance to shoot these kinds of guns know this: the movies lie.

After handling, in turn, an AK-47, a Magnum and a Glock, it was certainly clear that no matter how skilled a marksman one might be, it's near impossible to accurately fire two Magnums simultaneously while doing a somersault over an exploding car with a hot damsel in distress clinging to your back. Half of our most favourite cheesy action flicks were instantly ruined forever. Instead, it's bad enough trying to shoot one bullet at a time accurately out of a Magnum without your shoulder falling off in the process. Believe me, we all had bruises on our bodies the next day from our little target'shoot and it wasn't all just thanks to hearty slaps and pats on the back from the rock and roll twins.

I've still got my target from that most interesting of days in Vegas those few years ago. I pull it out occasionally to remind myself just how bizarre a place Vegas can be, what an AK-47 can do to paper lungs, and why Schwarzenegger's uncanny marksmanship in Commando is a crock of rubbish. On my recommendation, an Aunt dropped into the Gun Store recently, however it seems they'd tightened up the security and regulations since our visit, thank-God. Still, she did have the chance to shoot an M-16, and presumably unless you work for a Colombian drug cartel you don't get to do that every day, so she was happy with the experience.

If you ever get to Las Vegas, look up the Gun Store. It's guaranteed to be one of the most unique, most exciting and most wrong 'only in America' experiences you're ever likely to have. And no matter how many days you spend in Vegas afterward living it up into oblivion, it still won't diminish the memory of your abject horror and excitement while there, I can assure you.

Rock and roll, baby!