OP-EDS

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October 16, 2003

A day of beer, guns, and no Kant

"Food, Gas, and Beer" read a large sign next to the backcountry road. Flanking the road were two long lines of cars, parking lots being a rarity in this part of Kentucky. I had come to this desolate area to participate in the semi-annual Knob Creek Machine Gun Shoot. Alas, I was lost and didn't know whether I was near the gun range. A loud explosion and a mushroom cloud rising from the nearby woods confirmed that I was.

For the last three years, I'd been trying to find a gun range in the vicinity of Chicago for a College Republicans outing. Unfortunately, Mayor Daley's constant lawsuits have reduced the number of gun ranges in the greater Chicago area considerably. The remaining ranges have strict 21-plus policies, ruling out most of our membership.

About a year ago, my friend Jon had sent me the URL www.machinegunshoot.com. The website said that while federal law prohibits manufacturing machine guns, people still owning them from before the ban were allowed to sell and rent them out. Twice a year these enthusiasts gathered to play with their toys and have a good ol' time at a place called Knob Creek. It promised to be a weekend of guns, beer, and pick-up trucks. And no Kant!

I convinced several College Republicans, as well as some other friends, to go with me. If worst came to worst, they could always identify my shredded remains. To be culturally sensitive, I also wore a shirt that I had previously acquired at a country music festival. It read "Shock N Y'all" on the front and "I Am An Angry American" on the back.

Upon arriving at the range, the first thing I saw was a long dirt ridge, called a backstop. Over a dozen machine guns were being enthusiastically operated by people I can only politely describe as "Sons of the South." They were pouring hundreds of rounds into cars, refrigerators, and other pieces of junk piled in front of the backstop.

The only thing missing was Michael Moore with a video camera.

Being a World War II buff, my eyes instantly fell on an old German MG42 machine gun. After paying the vendor I got my finger on the trigger and lined up on a water cooler, helpfully spray-painted with the word "Osama" on its front. "Hasta la vista bin Laden," I said in my best Austrian accent and unleashed holy hell on it. If only the War on Terrorism were this easy.

Next to me a father was teaching his 10-year-old son how to fire an AK-47 assault rifle. "Get ready to duck," my brother Christian muttered. Sure enough the kid immediately went fully automatic, with the muzzle of the gun flying all over the place. His embarrassed father suggested that maybe there was a little too much kickback in the weapon for the lad. Without missing a beat, he took the AK from his kid and handed him an UZI 9mm instead.

At was at this point that Christian—a philosophy major from Notre Dame—decided he wanted to fire an M2 flamethrower. A bit concerned for my sibling, I asked the renter if there were many accidents. He said no, but his girlfriend reminded him how yesterday a neophyte had accidentally sprayed his wife with napalm fuel. "Oh yeah," he recalled. "Good thing it didn't ignite. Every day that goes by without someone getting killed is a day we laugh."

While my brother incinerated a small plot of land, I decided to investigate a booth labeled "Kill Charlie!" It featured a crudely drawn Asian stick figure wearing a rice-paddy hat. Intrigued, I forked over $20 and was soon walking through the woods with a submachine gun, closely followed by a Vietnam vet. It was pretty uneventful, except every once and a while he would stop and point at a random plant. "Oh my God!" he would shout. "It's a Viet Cong suicide squad!" And I would duly dispatch the menacing foliage.

That was the end of my day, but my brother still had one memorable story to add:

"On our way out [we] stopped at the Patton Museum booth. We started talking to a guy who didn't remind me of anyone as much as [John Goodman's character] from The Big Lebowski. He confessed that the massive recoilless rifle they had out front wasn't the biggest gun he could have brought...he was just now putting the finished touches on an even bigger recoilless rifle in the privacy of his garage.

"We then produced a 50 caliber round (a bullet with a slug the size of a Hostess Twinkie) for comparison. Then, smiling from ear to ear, he produced one of the slugs for his gun. The slug alone was almost as long as my forearm and weighed more than a full fish tank. Combined with the casing, it was easily as large as my leg.

"‘Wow', I said, ‘What do you plan to use that for?'

"He looked at me with a perfectly straight face and said ‘squirrels.'"