A report from a semi-annual machine gun festival, held just this side of Fort Knox.
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By the way, these fully automatic machine guns are not the same thing as the so-called “assault weapons” that gun control partisans perennially try to ban. What the Brady Center and liberal politicians mislabel as “assault weapons” are nothing but ordinary semi-automatic rifles or handguns. Pull the trigger once and the gun goes “bang” once, just like any other firearm. But since many of those guns have a military appearance, scare tactics are used to demonize them as “assault weapons” in the minds of people who don’t know the difference.
Speaking of anti-gunners, a cottage industry has sprung up in recent years in which leftist journalists attend the Knob Creek shoot, and then publish pieces portraying the attendees as depraved, violent extremists walking around in Nazi garb. All I can say is: I saw thousands of people over the course of three days and, unsurprisingly, they were the same sort of folks you would see at any event in America open to the public. Better than at many events, in fact. After passing through the admission gate, the first people I encountered were volunteers politely soliciting donations for children’s diseases. Inside the clubhouse, the ladies were selling cookies, brownies, and cakes to send kids to camp. The most oddly dressed members of the crowd that I saw were three Mennonites.
THIS IS NOT a political event, but when any group in favor of firearms rights assembles, the sentiments in the air are diametrically opposed to totalitarian big government. On Friday night, I had an excellent dinner at a homey German restaurant called Frank’s—check out their piping-hot, crispy jägerschnitzel if you are ever in Radcliff, Kentucky. The cheerful, bustling German lady who waited on me (and on everyone else) noticed I was reading a book called From Darwin to Hitler, which traces the influence of social Darwinism and the eugenics movement on Nazi ideology. She stopped at my table, and inquired with sudden seriousness: “You know what the problem with people is?” I allowed that I didn’t. She pointed at the book, and nodded emphatically: “The problem is that people don’t learn from history!” I had to agree.
By and large, supporters of the Second Amendment have learned from history as it relates to gun rights. They know that Stalin and Mao put all firearms under the control of state and party, and that a disarmed populace was helpless to resist their mass murders. They are aware that Hitler used gun registration to confiscate firearms from Jews. They also see clearly that in this country the party of centralized government power is forever pushing for gun bans, registration, and other restrictions aimed at depriving citizens of their ability to own firearms.
That’s why gun owners, taken together, are advocates of freedom and are resistant to overreaching government. T-shirts worn by gun owners at Knob Creek had slogans like “Tyranny Emergency Response Team—Since 1776,” and “Free Men Own Guns. Slaves Don’t.”
The latter principle, by the way, is not just a t-shirt slogan. It has been a staple of political philosophy and law since the classical era. In Roman times, the Codex Justinianus made it clear that masters and free men were entitled to kill any slave who armed himself. The Supreme Court’s infamous Dred Scott decision supporting slavery denied that a black man could shed his slave status by entering free territory. If he could, it “would give to persons of the negro race, who were recognized as citizens in any one State of the Union, the right to enter every other State whenever they pleased, singly or in companies…and to keep and carry arms wherever they went.”
Andrew Fletcher, the influential 17th-century Scottish soldier, politician, and writer on militias is credited with coining the phrase “well-regulated militia,” incorporated by the founders in the Second Amendment. Fletcher affirmed this fundamental distinction between free men and slaves, stating that he could not see “why arms should be denied to any man who is not a slave, since they are the only true badges of liberty.…”
SO, BACK TO THE SHOOT. Besides the action on the main range, several scored competitions are held at separate ranges on other parts of the property: assault rifle, military bolt action rifle, shotgun, and so forth. I dropped in on the “subgun” competition. This involves running a course where the shooter engages targets by firing through windows or doorways, where moving targets pop up or swing by and are quickly obscured, and where weighted steel targets must be knocked down by being hit with multiple shots in succession. Running such courses is not unusual in firearms training or competition. The twist here is that the competitors shoot fully automatic submachine guns. Weapons that I saw ranged from high quality H&K MP5s, to somewhat Spartan British Sterlings, to the familiar drum-fed Thompsons. The competitors were amiable and pleased to discuss their weapons. One young man I talked to was associated with a company that manufactures silencers, or “suppressors” as they are known in the trade. “Less bang for your buck,” he explained with a smile.
On yet another range, separated by woods, a couple of machine gun rental vendors invited members of the public to try their hands at shooting full auto weapons. On Friday, I traipsed down the hill to the rental range, only to find a line of about 150 people in front of me. Sorry, not that interested. Saturday, same thing. Sunday—eureka, no line at all. There was a cornucopia of guns to choose from. I picked a Model 1919 belt-fed .30 caliber Browning, and fired a hundred rounds through it, making my very small fortune even smaller in a matter of seconds. I’ve shot full auto weapons before, but now the belt-fed variety can be crossed off the bucket list.
And yes, the “1919” designation refers to the fact that this model was placed in American military service almost a century ago. One dismal effect of the 1986 law outlawing new, full auto guns in civilian hands is that machine gun enthusiasts are now historians rather than innovators. Sure, it could be argued that perhaps there are no great technological advances remaining to be made in fully automatic weapons. Maybe our armed forces will continue to have superior automatic small arms courtesy of Defense Department acquisition programs and manufacturers who make guns for the military. Maybe.
It’s worth remembering that John Browning, the greatest firearms designer in world history, built his first gun at home at age 13. The M-16 military rifle was derived from path-breaking designs by Eugene Stoner, an amateur gun designer and tinkerer who never went to college, but eventually hitched up with a tiny company called ArmaLite. Innovation in military small arms tends to come from outside the armed forces, not within. One of the reasons Custer’s Seventh Cavalry got massacred was that their standard carbine was a government-issue, single-shot Springfield, while many of the Lakota and Cheyenne warriors wielded high-capacity, rapid-fire Henrys and Winchesters available on the open market.
THE GRAND BLOWOUT of the Knob Creek weekend is the night shoot on Saturday. Of the four 20- or 25-minute shooting sessions that evening, the first two were still in daylight. The final two took place in total blackness.
In the first session, the pièce de résistance was a full-size red and white city bus perched atop the hill at the far end of the range. Within seconds after the range went hot, the guns ignited the bus in a vortex of flame. Its big tires continued to burn for hours. Automobiles and boats met a similar fate. Between sessions, the Knob Creek Demolition Team in their green t-shirts hauled new “targets” onto the field to be riddled with gunfire, incinerated, or both. They also emplaced blue plastic 55-gallon drums of fuel for the fireballs. One young man drove a telescopic forklift, the kind with an extensible overhead boom. He lifted the charred and perforated automobile carcasses off the field by slipping the forks under their roofs, then trundled back with them to the side of the firing line and dropped the cars from on high into an enormous dumpster. Anything involving fire or explosions took place under the watchful eyes of volunteer firefighters from the Nichols Fire District. It is hard to convey how many things about this event remind you of America’s greatness.
The third session, conducted in complete darkness, commenced when the range operators switched off all the lights. That was the signal for firing to begin. Thunder and lightning erupted from the firing line. Three gigantic bursts of white light exploded downrange, metamorphosed into huge, fluffy blooms of orange-black flame, and then curled up into themselves as they levitated and vanished. Lines of gleaming tracers criss-crossed, and ricochets angled sharply into the surrounding hills or looped crazily into the air. Dense plumes of black smoke nearly obscured some of the flaming vehicles. Then more fireballs mushroomed, to the musical accompaniment of the big .50 calibers…
I didn’t stay for the fourth session, which was undoubtedly the most spectacular. I was perfectly satisfied, and my feet were tired. As I pulled out of the parking area in the lower field, the crescendoing roar of the machine guns burst forth again, including the unearthly, unmistakable buzzsawing of the minigun as it ripped a swath. Glancing uphill, I could see the flash of fireballs lighting up clouds of smoke above the trees.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?