Pumping Iron


Fun Guns

Why is it that, as a culture, we are more comfortable seeing two men holding guns than holding hands?

- Ernest Gaines

by Zack Anderson

We pull into the parking lot of a squat building garishly illuminated by a dozen blinding spotlights.  The painted block lettering reads "LA Gun Club."  We are a stone's throw from downtown, on the edge of skid row, ten bucks from insolvency.

Inside is a long l-shaped glass counter displaying 200 different handguns: 9 millimetres, 6-shooters, derringers, fancy James-Bond-like pistols, macho Clint Eastwood-style semi-automatic revolvers, etc.  On the wall is an equally impressive collection of rifles: M-1s, AK-47s, Kalashnikovs, Uzis, hunting rifles, scopes to shoot groundhogs at night from 1000 yards.

Three men are working, two of whom have pistols holstered to their waists.  "Have you been here before?" we are asked.  No.  "Read this."  We are each given a piece of paper with 20 or so numbered rules: all ammunition must be loaded inside the range, no drugs or alcohol allowed on premises, no hollow point bullets, allowed, never point a gun at another person, only kill what you can eat, et cetera.

"I need to see a driver's license and a credit card."  Morgan puts down his license and American Express.  "Okay," the counterman says, "what do you want to shoot?"  I was not asked for any identification, not a library or ACLU card.  I could have been a homicidal maniac recently escaped from the back lot of Universal Studios, and now I was being offered my choice of weaponry and accompanying ammunition.

"I want something big - big and sexy.  What would Kate Smith be if she were a gun?"  The clerk nods.  He takes out something big, all right.  Big and terrifying.  He leans closer for effect: "This is what Clint used in all the Dirty Harry movies."  What is it?  "It's a .45 calibre semi-automatic.  Biggest bang for the buck."  "That's the one for me, Morgan says.  After contemplating the beauty of a pistol-grip machine gun, I settle on a .357 magnum: simple, elegant, to the point.  "How many rounds you want?"  We both ask for 50.  "Okay," the man says, "here's how it works."  He proceeds to load a clip, put it in the gun, point at the safety, unload the clip.  "Got that?" he asks.  "Yeah," I say, too embarrassed to admit that I was actually afraid I might shoot myself in the foot.  There are several targets to choose from: policemen, burglars, bulls' eyes, three-legged dogs, etc.  We take a generic outline of a man's body, and are then handed our weapons, boxes of ammo, earphones to combat the noise, and protective goggles.  Morgan says, "This is either the end of our lives or the beginning of new ones."

We walk into the long shooting range.  Ten or so people blast away at their targets.  I am nervous.  There is nothing to stop anyone else from killing me or, even worse, training a Colt at my chest and demanding I sign a petition to make rhododendrons the official state flower of Vermont.  The only things separating me from armed and presumably dangerous strangers are three-foot plasterboard liners at each station.  People lounge near the back window, watching, waiting.  I consider saying, "Keep your hands where we can see them," but think better of it.  There is the ubiquitous group of well-dressed Japanese businessmen, two heterosexual couples, and a handful of loners who probably have 25 copies of Taxi Driver back in their miserable stucco apartments.  Random firing is heard.  Some laughing.  This is it.

Morgan loads three bullets into his gun, points the barrel at the target, squeezes the trigger.  It's a goddamned cannon.  Everyone else in the range stops and looks our way.  BOOM!  BOOM!  Flame leaps from the barrel.  Someone says, "What the hell is that?"  Do we answer?  Would Clint answer?  We don't answer.  I take my turn and blast four quick shots.  Morgan and I trade guns.  The .45 is so much more powerful than the .357: pull the trigger and the gun twists violently in your hands.  We blast away, round after round in quick succession.  This is fun.  Insane, macho fun.  We run out of bullets in 30 minutes, turn in our weapons, and pay the bill: $68, tax included.  The Los Angeles night is still weatherless.  Our fingers reek of gunpowder, our adrenal glands pump at full capacity.  We go eat some sushi.

Source: Anderson Valley Advertiser 27 April 1994

Gun Resort Aims for the Top

My friends and I make short films.  We pretended to rob the Dairy Queen where our friend worked, but someone thought we were real thieves and called the cops!  Soon, the cops burst in with guns drawn!

- Josh Hartnett

by Giles Whittell

Visitors to Front Sight take part in a sub-machinegun training course at the Nevada complex.

In the desert near Las Vegas, a former chiropractor is spending US$25 million (NZ$46 million) on a holiday destination with a difference - a resort based around one of the world's biggest non-military shooting ranges.

Front Sight, Nevada aims to be heaven on earth for committed gun enthusiasts; it promises to be a variation on the theme of the golf resort but with sub-machinegun firing ranges and "360o live fire simulators" instead of fairways.  It has already been called "a shooter's Disneyland".

"We've designed it to rival any high-end golf course you can think of, but with firearms training that exceeds what law enforcement officers get," Ignatius Piazza says, as bulldozers work on 12 separate firing ranges at his chosen site about 100 kilometres southwest of America's gambling capital.

An underground attraction called "tunnels of terror" is also taking shape.

The first phase of Dr Piazza's 220-hectare (550-acre) project is due to open in October.  An airstrip and "celebrity firing range" are to be finished by this time next year, and a planned residential community with its own private school should be completed by 2001.  The scheme has already made headlines, thanks to Dr Piazza's trenchant public stance against gun control since the Littleton school shootings in Colorado.

He says it comes down to how many times officials are willing to have these tragedies occur before doing something proactive and responsible.  Like Charlton Heston, chairman of the National Rifle Association, Dr Piazza has advocated arming America's school security guards.  He has also offered them free firearms training.

With new gun control measures on the fast track to becoming law in Washington, the rhetoric and antics of the nation's gun-lovers have taken on the tone of a crusade.  Full-page advertisements from the association appear frequently in the national press, calling for a redoubled grassroots defence of the constitutional right to bear arms.  And for Dr Piazza, diminutive and soft-spoken behind, a bushy moustache, business is brisk.

He claims to have enrolled 3,000 new students this year alone at a training facility he has run in California since 1986.  Here, an intensive residential course to become a "four weapons combat master" in the use of handguns, shotguns, rifles and machineguns costs US$2,000.  Dr Piazza teaches the course.

A four-day "defensive handgun" course costs US$900 and is offered as the answer to many of the ills of United States society.  "If everyone in the country attended it, the United States would be the safest country in the world," Dr Piazza says.

In the meantime, visitors to his Nevada building site are being offered a powerful incentive to come back when the resort is finished: free introductory machinegun courses at weekends. - The Times

Source: The Dominion Thursday 17 June 1999

BIg Guns

USS Iowa (BB-61) fires a full broadside of nine 16"/50 and six 5"/38 guns
during a target exercise near Vieques Island, Puerto Rico, 1 July 1984.

Source: Official US Navy photo by Photographer's Mate Airman J Alan Elliott.  [SN-ST=85-05379]

Note concussion effects on the water surface and 16-inch gun barrels in varying degrees of recoil.

Packing Heat At the Shop and Shoot

Guns are neat little things, aren't they?  They can kill extraordinary people with very little effort.

- John W Hinckley, Jr

Michigan women are going to shop-and-shoot camp to lose their fear of firearms

Frankenmuth, Michigan - On Saturday, Dianne Szostak clutched a shopping bag, pleased to have found a fairy sculpture for her herb garden.  On Sunday, she clutched a .38 calibre revolver.

Welcome to Michigan Shop And Shoot, a two-day retreat sponsored by the Second Amendment Sisters to encourage women to eat, shop and shoot together.

"It's just a sport, like soccer or softball," said 13-year-old Sara Nutt.  "There's nothing dangerous about it, unless you treat it dangerously."

Nutt, who started shooting BB guns at 10, attended the weekend Shop and Shoot with her mother.  "We're allowing women to learn about firearms and lose their fear in a non-threatening atmosphere," said Pat Alzady, who helped organise the meeting at a Bavarian-themed tourist town, about 129km north of Detroit.

The Sisters, which has 25 chapters and several thousand members in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Texas, formed last year in response to the pro-gun-control Million Mom March.  A second Shop And Shoot is planned for Pennsylvania later this year.  The Second Amendment of the US Constitution includes the right to bear arms.

National director Juli Bednarzyk, a Chicago software consultant, denied being a "gun nut" and compared gun ownership to disability insurance: Everyone should have it, although they hope never to use it.  "I used to think the issue was so cut and dried.  How could anyone be against gun control?" said Bednarnyk, 34.  "But if you ever need a gun, it's too late to go back and get one."

Szostak, 50, was among some 70 women at the Frankenmuth Conservation Club rifle range who signed up for Sunday weapons instruction from the National Rifle Association.  Szostak, who owns two pistols and seven shotguns, picked up her first gun two years ago after Internet discussions convinced her the Government was threatening her right to bear arms.

"The more I thought they were going to take our guns away, the more I wanted to get a gun and protect my right to have it," said Szostak, who owns a manufacturing business.  Szostak said she would also be among those applying for a concealed weapon permit this summer, when a new Michigan law will require county gun boards to give concealed weapons permits to anyone who applies, as long as they are over 21 and have no felony record.  Gun control activists are collecting signatures in an attempt to block the legislation, but say their aim is not to stop activities like Shop And Shoot.

"We don't want to infringe on the rights of responsible gun owners.  But we do want everybody to keep in mind that we're talking about firearms here and firearms kill," said Carolynne Jarvis, director of the Michigan Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence.

State Representative Sue Tabor said she wished more women and children would learn about the safe use of weapons.  "We need to help women overcome the fear and the misconception that guns are the cause of all the violence, the school shootings," Tabor said.

Delaine Burden, a 38-year-old finance executive who bought a .22 calibre rifle last year, admitted she may never overcome her anxiety.  "There's always going to be fear there.  There should be," she said. - AP

Source: The Evening Post Tuesday 20 March 2001

When I read this article, I suddenly remembered the sight of Annette Bening target practicing in American Beauty.

Cook Shot by Gun in Oven

A Texas woman heating fish sticks was shot in the leg by a gun that had been stashed in her oven, police said.  Roxanne Perez, 29, was taken to a local hospital where she was in good condition, they said.  They said Ms Perez's friend had hidden the .357 calibre pistol in the stove two weeks earlier after being told that guns were not allowed in the house.  When Ms Perez heated up the fish sticks she also heated up the gun, which caused several rounds to be fired.  One hit her in the leg.  Police said no charges would be filed. - Reuters

Source: smh.com.au 29 March 2004

Boys Display Unhealthy Disregard for Gun Safety in Lab Experiment

by Lindsey Tanner

Chicago - In a disturbing laboratory experiment in which a gun was hidden in a drawer, many boys found the weapon, played with it and even pulled the trigger without knowing whether it was loaded.  "They did everything from point it at each other to look down the barrel themselves," said Dr Geoffrey Jackman, who led the study.  "The scariest thing is when the children picked up that gun and looked straight down the barrel."  The study involved 64 Atlanta-area boys ages 8 to 12.  Seventy-five percent, or 48, found the gun; nearly half - 30 - handled it; and one-fourth - 16 - pulled the trigger.

Many of the boys did not know if the gun was real but played with it anyway, the researchers said.  None knew that it was unloaded.  More than 90% of the boys who handled the gun or pulled the trigger reported having received some sort of gun safety instruction, ranging from an informal talk with their parents to formal instruction from a teacher or a police officer at school, Jackman and colleagues said in the June issue of the journal Pediatrics.

National Rifle Association spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said the study used a "pretty puny" sample.  "You can certainly assume that the findings are artificial," he said.

But psychologist Kevin Dwyer, a child-violence expert who was not involved in the research, called the results "extremely important."  They suggest, he said, that just telling kids that they should not handle a gun is often not good enough.  "It means that we must have external control rather than education control, such as gun locks and reduced availability of firearms in situations where children can access them," Dwyer said.

Jackman conducted the study while at Emory University but now works as a pediatric emergency medicine physician at the University of Utah.  The experiment involved putting groups of two or three brothers or friends in a clinic examining room for about 15 minutes.  They were not told there was a .380 caliber semiautomatic handgun in a cabinet drawer.  Researchers and parents watched from an adjacent room behind a two-way mirror.

Putting the children in groups was an attempt to duplicate real-life circumstances in which kids might find a gun.

Twenty-one of the boys came from gun-owning families.  A sizable number of parents were college-educated, and parents of most of the boys who handled the gun had believed their sons had a low interest in guns, Jackman said.

Source: Associated Press 4 June 2001

Do Guns Mean Crime?

New research shoots holes in the idea that guns in the hands of private citizens will help deter criminals

The second amendment of the American constitution concerns the "right of the people to keep and bear arms", and the intent of that language is the subject of a perpetual debate, one that will be sharpened by the incoming administration's gun-leaning instincts.  Economists are not usually in the business of making value judgments.  But some recent research about the effects on crime of gun ownership ought to play a part in informing society's decisions.

From a hypothetical perspective, gun ownership could promote crime by facilitating violence; or it could deter it, by implicitly threatening retribution.  Empirically, the question has been hard to resolve.  Economists seeking to map the relationship between American gun ownership and crime face a formidable obstacle: data on gun ownership exists only at the national level.

It is not for economists, however, to be put off by a paucity of data.  Some academics have spent years squirrelling around for proxies for gun ownership in given geographical areas.  Until recently, the most notorious of their studies used the passage of legislation that allowed private citizens to carry concealed firearms as a proxy indicator of gun ownership.  The findings* of John Lott of Yale University and David Mustard of the University of Georgia (both at the time at the University of Chicago) suggested that such laws, and the increases in gun ownership that presumably accompanied them, diminished violent crime.

While the National Rifle Association feasted upon these results, other academics voiced scepticism about their statistical rigour.  Just a year later, a paper** using the same data and more advanced econometric methods showed that concealed-weapon legislation had made only a small contribution to falling murder rates, and may even have boosted robberies.  This second paper was feasted upon less than the first.

The search for a more reliable proxy continued, and has now led to a forthcoming paper*** by Mark Duggan of the University of Chicago.  Mr Duggan obtained state- and county-level sales data from one of America's largest gun magazines, betting that sales would be strongly correlated with gun ownership.  This particular magazine concentrates on handguns, the type most commonly used in crime.  Although Mr Duggan does not assume that subscribers are likely to be criminals, he does point out that the majority of guns used in crimes are obtained through burglaries or second-hand sales.  Still, even before considering the link to crime, how do you prove that a correlation exists with magazine sales, when gun ownership is itself such an unknown quantity?

Burden of Proof

Mr Duggan attacked this problem from several directions.  First, he showed that the counties with high gun-magazine sales had similar demographics to those associated with the profile of typical gun-owners in national-level surveys.  Next, he found a strong relationship between the level of magazine sales and the number of gun shows in states.  To assume that gun shows and gun ownership are highly correlated is no great leap of logic.  But then again, the logical link between gun ownership and the sales of gun magazines can hardly be called tenuous.  Mr Duggan also used government health statistics to demonstrate that states with higher magazine sales suffered higher rates of gun-related death.

Armed with a high-powered proxy, Mr Duggan set his sights on crime.  With data stretching from 1980 to 1998, he calculated that a 10% increase in an average state's rate of gun ownership, proxied by magazine sales, was associated with a 2% rise in its homicide rate.  However, these concurrent changes could support either of two hypotheses: that crime rises when individuals own more guns, or that individuals purchase more guns to defend themselves against rising crime.  To sort out this confusion, Mr Duggan checked the direction of the relationship over time; increases in gun ownership led to increases in crime in the following year, but the reverse did not hold.  The same pattern was found at the county level.

As a further check, Mr Duggan divided his pool into homicides that involved guns and those that did not.  Changes in magazine sales were not associated with changes in non-gun homicides - a reassuring point in favour of the proxy.  Mr Duggan also examined other forms of crime.  Perhaps most striking for those who believe in the deterrent effect of gun-ownership, burglary (theft with forcible entry) and larceny (theft without forcible entry or threat of harm) rose significantly following growth in gun ownership, by roughly half as much as homicides.  On the other hand, rates of robbery (theft with threat of harm), assault, rape and car theft remained largely unchanged, a finding which, at least for violent crimes, contradicts Messrs Lott's and Mustard's paper.

The author also took on the Lott-Mustard results explicitly.  Mr Duggan reasoned that for guns to deter crime, the passage of concealed-weapons laws must either lead to more gun ownership or to more frequent carrying of previously owned weapons.  But the passage of such legislation did not lead to significant changes in gun ownership.  And those counties where gun ownership was highest (where an increase in gun carrying could occur) did not see any significant changes in crime when their states passed concealed-weapons laws.

Perhaps those in favour of concealed-weapons laws will argue that it is merely the increased fear that your victim might be armed that would be enough to deter criminals; and that concealed-weapons laws might create such fears regardless of whether actual gun ownership, or gun carrying, increased.  Still, the central tenet of Mr Duggan's findings stands: on balance, the evidence suggests that guns foster crime, not the other way around.

* "Crime, Deterrence, and Right-to-Carry Concealed Handguns" by John Lott and David Mustard, Journal of Legal Studies, January l997
** "Lives Saved or Lives Lost?  The Effects of Concealed-Handgun Laws on Crime" by Hashem Dezhbakhsh and Paul H Rubin, American Economic Review, May 1998
*** "More Guns, More Crime" by Mark Duggan, forthcoming in the Journal of Political Economy, 2001

Source: The Economist 13 January 2001

It occurs to me that the personality of the US would be quite different than it is if handguns were to be banned.  Crime rates may rise - more muggers would stop more little old ladies if there were absolutely no chance of them having handguns in their purses.  I'm not sure, on balance, that I think the effect would be a net negative, however.  What do YOU think?

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