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The Pursuit of Happiness
Wednesday, February 24, 2010 • Posted February 24, 2010

Teenage boys have a built-in behavioral enzyme in their DNA that keeps them from showing interest in anything. They have to act cool, like they’ve seen it all and done it all, and nothing surprises them. You can take a teenage boy to the Grand Canyon, or Niagara Falls, or Mt. Everest, or Wal-Mart, and his reaction will be the same: Can we go eat now?

There are exactly three stimuli that will provoke a reaction from a teenage boy – cars, guns, and teenage girls. Of these, by far the most dangerous and most expensive is teenage girls. Give a teenage boy all the cars and guns he wants, and keep him away from teenage girls, and your problems will be few and simple. This is only a theory, of course, since it’s never been accomplished.

But hope springs eternal, so Chris Dyer and I recently took our two fourteen-year-old boys (his son, Nicholas, and my son, Leret) to a machine gun shoot near Fredericksburg, Texas. Unfortunately there were teenage girls there. Fortunately there were a lot more guns than girls. Unfortunately the girls were shooting the guns. Sometimes you can’t win.

A line in one of Jimmy Buffet’s songs says, "Don’t try to describe a Kiss concert if you’ve never seen it." I’ve never seen a Kiss concert, and never will, but I think the sentiment could just as easily apply to a machine gun shoot. The noise level at both is probably comparable.

You can go to You Tube and find videos from machine gun shoots, such as the famous one held at Knob Creek, in Tennessee. You can watch those and see people shooting automatic weapons ranging from WWII grease guns to huge, sophisticated artillery. And you can believe you know what it’s like to be there. But that’s like seeing a picture of a bear and thinking you know what it feels like to face one from twenty feet. You have no idea.

There are many misconceptions about machine guns and the people who own them. It seems the only people who possess automatic weapons in books and movies are Bad Guys. These movie Bad Guys are generally ugly, unwashed, unbarbered, uncouth, rude individuals who exhibit anti-social and violent behavior, who don’t attend church, and who don’t like Elvis or Andy.

The facts are far from Hollywood’s portrayal. The people who own automatic weapons are some of the finest people you’ll ever meet. They look just like everyone else, they bathe, they are friendly and honest, and many of them attend church regularly and are liable to have several seasons of Mayberry, RFD on DVD.

An automatic weapon is one that is capable of shooting multiple times with one depression of the trigger. These are known as Class 3 Weapons, and to own one you have to pay a $200 transfer tax, and pass a pretty detailed background check. So, by definition, Class 3 Weapons owners are no less law-abiding than other citizens, and probably more honest than most. People DO NOT go to the trouble to obtain Class 3 Weapons and then commit crimes with them.

There were plenty of automatic guns at the machine gun shoot, and the people who brought them were about as nice a bunch of folks as I’ve met. We didn’t go around and try to shoot them all, but every time I asked anyone if the boys could shoot their guns, the answer was yes. And every time, it was accompanied by a smile. It was like walking up to people and saying, "Hey, would you mind giving me ten bucks?" and the guy pulling out his wallet.

One fellow, who I’ll call Jerry, had a regular arsenal. We asked if we could pay him to shoot his Model 1919 Browning .30, and he said no. But we could shoot it for free. We rattled off, I imagine, about $200 worth of his ammo, and he smiled the whole time.

Jerry also had a Browning .50 there, and once in a while he would haul a box of about 100 linked rounds over and load it up. It took the .50 maybe 15 or 20 seconds to go through 100 rounds, which cost $5 apiece. Machine gunning is not a cheap sport.

The boys also got to shoot a Barrett .50 semi-automatic rifle, which shoots the same .50 BMG round as Jerry’s Browning, but slower. And they got to shoot some other guns you don’t see every day. And they had a blast.

One fellow brought a flamethrower and demonstrated it for us, which was quite impressive. There was also a mortar, which some fellows used to lob non-explosive ammo, and a cannon, I think a 40mm, on its own limber, or whatever it’s called. A guy shot an M203 grenade launcher periodically, and there was no way to count the automatic small arms, such as M16s, HK MP5s, AK47s, and others.

The thing I remember most, though, was when a dad got his daughter, about 10 years old, set up with an AR with spade grips sitting on a tripod, and she prepared to rattle off about 100 rounds of .223 on full auto. Everyone, of course, was wearing powerful hearing protection. The girl looked around at her dad, smiled, gave him a thumbs up, turned back around, and started blasting away.

They say you can’t buy happiness, and I’m sure that’s true. But you can rent it for a little while, it’s just not cheap . . .

Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who would like to point out that no one was shot or blown up during the writing of this column. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or

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