Best. State. Ever.: A Florida Man Defends His Homeland - Dave Barry (2016)
Lock & Load Miami
There comes a time in a man’s life when a man must man up and be a man by summoning up his manhood and doing something manly. For me, that time is today. And the place is Lock & Load Miami.
Lock & Load is a shooting range that offers a “Machine Gun Experience”: You pay them money and they let you shoot actual machine guns emitting actual bullets. The Lock & Load website boasts that they offer “the nation’s greatest variety of fully automatic firearms with over 25 fully automatic machine guns available for use in packages and a la carte.” The packages include the 007, the Special Forces Eastern Bloc, the Special Forces Israel (which includes an Uzi), the Boss (a.k.a. “El Jefe”), the Scarface and others. For enhanced manliness, you can augment your package with handguns.
I am here with my friend and cousin-in-law Ron Ungerman, who is visiting Miami with his wife, Sonia. They originally had other plans for today, probably shopping, but when I asked Ron if he wanted to go shoot machine guns instead, he responded, quote, “Fuck yes.”
Sonia was less excited about it, as was my wife, Michelle. I am a huge fan of females as a gender, but they tend to display a baffling lack of enthusiasm for violent destruction. Show me a group of individuals who are spending a Sunday afternoon entertaining themselves by using explosives to blow up, say, major appliances, and I will show you a group of males. Any females in the area will be holding their fingers in their ears and saying, “Why?”
That was how our wives felt about the Machine Gun Experience. I tried to discuss my shooting-package options with Michelle ahead of time, and it went like this:
ME (looking at the Lock & Load website): Whoa. You can shoot a .50 caliber!
MICHELLE: They just give you a machine gun and let you shoot it?
ME: That’s a really big caliber.
MICHELLE: What if you shoot somebody?
ME: Would you think less of me if I didn’t get a .50 caliber package?
MICHELLE: What if somebody shoots you?
But, as I say, a man has to do what a man has to do, and so, on this Tuesday morning, Ron and I, without our wives, pull into the parking lot of the Lock & Load building. It’s located in Miami’s Wynwood District, an area that used to be seedy and crime-ridden but has been gentrified and hipsterfied to the point where the biggest danger today is that you might accidentally purchase non-artisanal food.
The Lock & Load building is painted gunmetal gray and decorated with silhouettes of people holding guns. Next to the entrance, as a fun decorative accessory, is a missile.
Inside, Lock & Load is more inviting—bright, spacious, cheerful and modern, with lots of tables and chairs. It looks kind of like a restaurant, except that the menus on the tables explain the shooting package options and there are machine guns mounted on the wall.
We’re greeted by an attractive young woman Sales Associate in a Lock & Load T-shirt. She explains the menu and says we can check out the guns on the wall, if we want, because they’ve been modified so they can’t fire. She leaves, telling us she’ll be back to take our order. As we ponder the menu, I overhear the conversation at a nearby table, where a father and his two teenage kids are discussing their package options with another attractive young female Sales Associate.
“I would stay away from the Eastern Bloc,” she is telling them.
After some mulling, Ron and I make our decisions. He’s going with the $179 Scarface package, and I’m going with the $209 Special Forces package. The packages involve different weapons, but in both cases you shoot four different machine guns, twenty-five rounds each. (Round is a manly word for “bullet.”) Ron and I both add handguns to our packages, at $29 each. Ron selects the Baretta. I go with the Glock, not because I know anything about handguns but because my daughter, Sophie, and I have a running joke about the lyrics to a song called “679” by a hip-hop recording artist34 named Fetty Wap, who at one point says, “I got a Glock in my ’rari,” meaning he has a Glock in his Ferrari. Sophie and I like to indicate how “street” we are by sporadically declaring that we have Glocks in our ’raris. I will never own a ’rari, but I’m thinking it might be fun to say I actually fired a Glock.
The Sales Associate comes back and takes our order, then tells us it will take about ten minutes to load our packages. Ron and I pass the time by photographing each other posing with some of the deactivated wall-mounted weapons. Neither one of us has ever fired a machine gun before, but as soon as we pick up these superbly engineered firearms, feeling their heft as we cradle them in our arms, we undergo a subtle change—a transformation, if you will—from a couple of ordinary, non-threatening civilian guys into a pair of world-class douchenozzles.
If Ron and I were ever to, God forbid, find ourselves holding machine guns in actual combat, our only hope of survival would be that the enemy was laughing too hard to aim properly.
Finally, it’s time for us to shoot. I’m starting to feel quite nervous. As you have probably gathered, I know basically nothing about guns. I’ve never owned one, unless you count the Daisy BB gun I had when I was a kid, which—although it could put out somebody’s eye, as my mother reminded me repeatedly—was not a lethal weapon. I know this because I shot my brother Phil with it at fairly close range and he did not die. In my defense, I had a good reason for shooting Phil; namely, I wanted to find out what happens if you shoot somebody with a BB gun. (Answer: He tells your mother.) But mainly I used my BB gun for target practice, by which I mean shooting out every streetlight in the greater Armonk, N.Y., metropolitan area.35
In other words, I have not had any meaningful experience with real firearms in my entire life. And now, as Ron and I head toward the firing range, my excitement about shooting machine guns is turning into nervousness and fears of inadequacy. These fears do not subside when we meet our Firearms Specialist, Nick Gulla. He is a tall, trim, sinewy man with a full beard, a deep voice and a handshake that would crush a coconut. He could be a testosterone donor. He is wearing a camo-patterned ball cap, a red Lock & Load polo shirt, tan military-style pants and a sidearm. He makes me feel like I’m wearing a tutu.
Before we go into the shooting range, Nick goes over some basic firearm-handling rules with us, the main ones being (1) always treat the gun as if it’s loaded, even if you think it’s not; (2) don’t put your finger on the trigger until it’s time to shoot; and (3) try not to poop your drawers when the gun goes off. (Nick leaves Rule 3 unspoken, but I definitely hear it.)
Nick then has us hold a dummy machine gun and practice our shooting stance. You’re supposed to lean pretty far forward to counteract the gun’s recoil, which Nick simulates by hitting the muzzle of the gun with the palm of his hand. Both Ron and I have trouble with the stance; we tend to topple forward, which of course would violate another important rule: Do not fall down while shooting a gun.
Eventually, with Nick’s patient help, Ron and I master the art of standing up. Nick gives us safety glasses and ear protectors and we go into the shooting range. There’s a line of shooting positions separated by steel dividers. Suspended in a wire frame in front of each shooting position, maybe twenty-five feet away, is a paper target displaying the shape of a male torso from the waist up.
The target has no facial features, but I like to imagine that he’s the guy—let’s call him Doug—who always sits near me in airports and has many important calls to make on his mobile phone. Somehow Doug has not yet figured out—despite the fact that we have had mobile phones for decades—that the people on the other end can hear normal conversational speech so THERE IS NO NEED TO TALK LOUD. Doug communicates at the same decibel level as a leaf blower. It does not trouble him, if he is even aware of it, that everybody around him hates him more than Hitler, who, for all his flaws, is at least dead.
Am I saying that I would like to shoot Doug in the head with a machine gun just for talking loud on his phone? Of course not! I would like to shoot Doug in his center mass, which is represented on the target by a red oval in the middle of Doug’s chest. This is what you’re supposed to aim for.
Ron and I take turns shooting. The procedure is, Nick tells the shooter a little about the gun, then shows him how to load and fire it. When the shooter is shooting, Nick always stands very close behind him, almost touching him, presumably so that if the shooter were to try to do anything stupid, such as turn around, Nick could take corrective action in the form of breaking the shooter’s spine like an Olive Garden breadstick.
Neither Ron nor I do anything stupid, which is a miracle because at this point both of us (we discussed this later) have so much adrenaline swirling around inside us that we have the functional IQs of cantaloupes. When Nick explains a gun to me, I’m nodding thoughtfully, but my brain is screaming, OHMIGOD I’M ABOUT TO SHOOT A MACHINE GUN OHMIGOD I’M ABOUT TO SHOOT A MACHINE GUN OHMIGOD I’M … and so on. The result is, I’m hearing Nick’s voice, but I’m not really understanding what he’s saying. To me, it sounds like this:
NICK (displaying gun): OK, this is a Wacklestein-Frampler X-839 fully automatic strategic tactical death carbine, which is used by law enforcement, Coast Guard canine units and Special Delta Attack Squadron Forces in SWAT raids, cliff assaults, field exorcisms and anti-submarine operations. It shoots four million rounds per second and has a range of seventeen miles. You load the magazine here, then all you do is pull this lever back, turn this knob a quarter turn counterclockwise and slide this switch to the second notch while pressing this button and engaging this mechanism here, making sure you line up this triangle with the red circle and keep these two dots in the center of the hypotenuse and whatever you do don’t glog the fedelwink. Got it?
MY BRAIN: OHMIGOD I’M ABOUT TO SHOOT A MACHINE GUN.
So when Nick hands me the machine gun, he has to slowly re-explain everything. Finally, I get the gun loaded, and I’m ready. I assume the stance and take the safety off. I aim as best I can at Doug’s center mass. Then I squeeze the trigger and
First of all, it’s loud, even with the ear protection. Also, there’s flame and smoke coming out of the muzzle and shell casings flying everywhere. Also the gun is jumping around in my hands. I have no idea where the bullets are going. Fortunately, there are only twenty-five of them, and they’re coming out superfast—BANG BANG BANG BANG—so it’s over in about two seconds.
With shaking hands, I set the gun down. I look at Doug. I did not get every round into his center mass. Some of my rounds may have ended up in Venezuela. But Doug is definitely, as Fetty Wap would say, “iced.”
I finish off Doug—you can’t be too careful—a total of five times, four times with machine guns and once with a Glock. One of the machine guns is an HK416, which is rumored to be the gun that Navy SEAL Team 6 used to take out Osama bin Laden. It is a badass weapon, and as an American I am proud to say it was part of my package.
When Ron and I are done shooting, we’re both totally wired, like squirrels on speed. We are giddy and euphoric. We agree that the Machine Gun Experience is one of the most fun and exciting things we have ever done, which is all the more impressive when you consider that we have both had sex, although not with each other.
Nick asks us if we want to keep our targets, and we’re all HELL YES we want to keep our targets. Doug is currently hanging on a wall in my home office, where he serves as a sobering reminder of what one lone citizen is capable of doing with a machine gun to a sheet of unarmed paper hanging approximately twenty-five feet away.
The only way I can think of to improve the Machine Gun Experience would be if you could select your own target. Imagine how enjoyable it would be to fire a burst of twenty-five rounds into, for example, the U.S. Tax code, or a low-flow toilet, or a fruitcake, or a big-screen TV showing an episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians.
But let us not quibble. The Machine Gun Experience is magnificent the way it is, which is why I am awarding it an unprecedented 6 out of a possible 5 out-of-order Mold-A-Matic machines.
I am definitely going back to Lock & Load. And, next time, I just might choose a package that includes the Barrett M95 sniper rifle, which fires a .50 caliber bullet roughly the size of a Toyota Corolla. Of course I’ll have to visualize a different target, since I have already dispatched Doug. I’m thinking this time it will be the Geico Gecko. He will never see it coming.