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August 1, 2013

Machine guns, cannons and drones at Arizona's Big Sandy Shoot

(Continued)

MOHAVE COUNTY, Ariz. —

The shooters are mostly middle-aged or older white men dressed in camouflage or hunting gear, baseball caps, and dark glasses. They are gathered around Tucker, who gives last-minute safety instructions.

When he finishes, the shooters hurry to their stations.

A signal horn blares.

A red flag shoots up a pole.

Someone yells: "Fire in the hole!"

The machine gunners start shooting, and yellow smoke sours the air. I've got my black-and-yellow ear protectors on but still hear the cacophony of tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tic-tic-tic-tch-tch-tch-tch-tch-pop-pop-pop-pop-pop of the smaller machine guns interspersed with a nerve-rattling thunderous kettledrum-on-steroids sequence BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM. It's the sound of .50-caliber machine guns, designed to flatten armored vehicles and low-flying aircraft.

I try not to wince as I adjust my loop earrings under the ear protectors and consider the journalistic challenges ahead. I want to know how real gun control works. Who are these shooters who pass the rigorous background checks? Will they open up to me? Are they especially thin-skinned in the wake of the tragic shootings at Sandy Hook? It's late March. Arizona is in the middle of the fray: Recently retired Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D, who was shot through the head by a gunman near a Tucson-area Safeway store in 2011, and her astronaut husband, Mark Kelly, are campaigning for gun control legislation. Even Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, R, seems to be leaning toward the proposed legislation.

Machine guns are already tightly regulated, but will these shooters chafe at regulation of their other guns? Looking down the firing line, I see other guns that aren't as restricted: semi-automatic pistols and rifles. There's also a cannon.

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