Rubin: Gun culture has deep Las Vegas roots
Gambling, golf and gourmet restaurants not enough for you in Las Vegas? Want to get the “real feel of what it’s like to clear a room with just a pull of the trigger”?
Multiple businesses are aiming to lure you in.
Three decades ago, working for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, I covered a bright and festive convocation of the southern Nevada machine gun owners’ club. Now, squeezing bursts from an AK-47 has become a revenue stream in a state where long guns aren’t much harder to get than a library card.
Police have not yet said what weapons gunman Stephen Paddock used to kill at least 59 people and wound more than 500. Had he wanted to shoot at targets instead, Machine Guns Vegas would have picked him up a few doors from the Mandalay Bay Hotel.
“Looking for the premier shooting range in Las Vegas?” asks the facility’s website. “Machine Guns Vegas is the only Vegas-lounge experience that lets you fire the kind of ... artillery you’ve seen in the hands of the highly-skilled SEAL and Delta Force teams.
“From modern machine guns to historical handguns, you’ll get the real feel of what it’s like to clear a room with just a pull of the trigger. This isn’t a walk-in gun store or dimly-lit shooting gallery. Machine Guns Vegas is a sensory experience that will rock your thrill index with every shot you take.”
Nevada still has some of the most easygoing firearms laws in the United States: no licenses or registration, no limits on number. Machine guns are legal as long as they’re registered in adherence with federal law.
Hey, it’s a hobby. Some people collect stamps. Stamps don’t make you twitch, though, after a guy busts out the 32nd-floor window of his hotel room and orchestrates the worst mass shooting in the history of a country that tends to have a lot of them.
Michigan has a smattering of ranges where customers can rent machine and sub-machine guns, but without the glee of the competitors in Las Vegas and without the Mojave Desert, where Machine Gun Vegas will give you “4 tannerite exploding targets so you can literally set the morning ablaze.”
MGV, as it’s known, also offers the Femme Fatale Experience, with a pink-handled Glock 17 pistol and two pink-accented sub-machine guns. “Ladies, are you feeling a little power hungry?” the pitch inquires. “Do you want to show the men in your lives who’s boss?”
Vegas Machine Gun Experience, not to be confused with Battlefield Vegas, Top Shot Las Vegas or the bevy of others, offers packages ranging from the 2nd Amendment ($130) to the We the People ($199) to the Stars and Stripes ($499), “the crown jewel,” featuring 25-shot bursts from Uzi and Thompson sub-machine guns and an AK-47 machine gun.
MGV can provide those and also “the gorgeous Gun Girls. These ladies are into everything gun-related, so don’t be shy as you spray the landscape with bullets.”
The machine gun collectors’ outing I covered in 1984 had a model in a ripped camouflage tank top who later became moderately famous, but I can’t remember her name.
I do recall machine guns of every permutation, and little kids romping around, and a gentleman with a pistol on his hip grilling burgers.
We were somewhere in the desert, probably 45 minutes outside of what was then a much smaller city. Most of the dozens of shooters brought their own machine guns. I remember being surprised that so many people owned them.
The president of the club explained to me that owners had to pass a background check and be approved by the Clark County sheriff’s office. “You have to be an upstanding citizen,” he said.
As he was speaking, the late pornographer Chuck Traynor walked past, pulling a little red wagon.
At the time, Traynor was married to the late porn actress Marilyn Chambers, but he’s best known for being married to Linda Lovelace, also deceased, the star of “Deep Throat.”
Lovelace claimed Traynor beat and threatened her and forced her into prostitution and moviemaking. His wagon was stacked with machine guns.
Details aren’t necessarily crisp after 33 years, but the star of the picnic was a belt-fed, water-cooled, World War I-era .303 Vickers, fired from a tripod. People were lining up to obliterate cacti with it from three-quarters of a mile away.
It was loud and cheery, with kids covering their ears as they giggled, and until 59 people died it’s what I would have thought of if I connected Las Vegas to guns.
Now the glee is depressingly misplaced, like crowing about clearing a room with the simple pull of a trigger.