Mar 072011

Here’s an outrageously subversive essay from Las Vegas by Brianna Berbenuik, a  grad student  in Russian/Slavic culture and English & Russian literature at the University of Victoria on Vancouver Island. DG discovered her by stumbling on her Tumblr blog Desire Machines where she goes by the name Superfoo. Beyond this, dg knows nothing about her except that she writes with audacity and says what she thinks and has an instinct for cultural truth, troublesome as that might be.


Shooting Guns

By Brianna Berbenuik


One of the things on the top of my list of things to do in Las Vegas was shoot guns. I had heard legends of places you could go and for $100 shoot whatever weapon of destruction you chose. As I am an avid student of war, apocalypse and humanity’s unending and impressive ability to continually invent new and exciting ways to demolish itself, shooting guns had not only its historical appeal, but also a pop-culture appeal, and personal appeal. To be, at least for a little while, part of this culture that loves to bear arms and imagine blowing away wrongdoers was exciting. I guess it’s kind of like a kitschy power-trip. When in Rome. Americans love their guns.

The Gun Store is about a 10 minute cab ride from the main strip, and it costs around $20 to get there. We enter the store and I sign a sheet of paper already almost full of other signatures, that declares with far too much ease that I am mentally sound enough to wield a gun, and that I understand I could be grievously injured or killed due to stray bullets, ricochets, malfunctioning of the weaponry, and everything else that goes along with toting a killing machine. I read this and of course my standard reaction is to smirk and laugh a little at the absurdity and redundancy of what I am signing, but my gut ties itself in a little knot and I think about how pissed I’d be if I died shooting an AK47 in some shit hole in Vegas because the dude next to me decided he didn’t like my face. Or worse yet, just a stray bullet. I mean, how pointless. Not that life isn’t pointless in the first place, but putting yourself in a situation where the pointlessness is magnified if you happen to be killed due to your own compliant stupidity is a little frightening. I guess you’d also call that the American Dream.

Of course I sign the paper and tell them to get me a Glock and an AK47.

I also buy a bumper sticker that says “Fight Crime: Shoot Back.” I love how inflammatory this is. I am excited at all the potential surfaces I could stick it on to show my allegiance to firearms and the shooting of. I also purchase a keychain that is a handgun but also a beer bottle opener. The object, shape of it, and function just cracks me up. Guns and booze. America, what a country. I immediately replace my benign bird-keychain thing with the gun.

I feel a swell of vaginal pride when I look around and realize that the majority of employees at the gun store are females. I expected an over-abundance of men, but they are almost all young ladies. I want this job, I think to myself.

The blonde girl at the desk who assists me in getting set up tells me to pick a target. I look up at the wall and notice all the paper things you can shoot up. This is where I get really horrified, wide-eyed and kind of stunned although in all seriousness I should have been expecting it. After the shock wears off it kind of seems normal.

The first three or four targets are “terrorists”. Terrorists as we know them post-9/11. If you don’t know what I am talking about let me describe this to you.

First, there is Osama Bin Laden. Okay, it’s a little on the personal side, targeting this one dude, but I get it. He fucked a lot of shit up. But then there is a “brown dude” with stereotypical “terrorist Muslim” apparel. I cringe a little. God, I feel like I just walked in on someone naked, the discomfort is so profound and I can’t take it back. I am being affronted by the collective racism of a country. The third is also a “terrorist” in the same way the second one was. Well, at least you have options. In the middle of the row are several kitschy and stupid photos of people holding families hostage, one dude holding a gun to the head of a very unconvincingly frightened blond Lolita, and, weirdly, an Alien. Book ending the row of targets, opposite of your friendly neighbourhood Taliban, are zombies. Zombies: the symbol of blind American consumerism and obedience. Wow. I don’t think I have seen anything that so clearly defines the American stereotype. I pick a regular target – that being just some circles surrounding a bull’s-eye, and a Nazi zombie. If only there were terrorist zombies. Maybe they were sold out.

The girl at the desk hands me my bullets and I am a little surprised at how heavy they are. I’ve never shot a gun before, let alone held ammo. I get in line and after a while a tall, lanky dude with facial hair and what looks like acne scars emerges from the back carrying an AK and a Glock. He’s an interesting dude and I like him immediately, not just because he is carrying firearms that I am about to shoot. He gives me some plastic goggles and ear protection to mute the sound of shotgun blasts.

When I imagined shooting guns, I kind of thought I’d get my own little blocked-off section in a row of other similar cells, each occupied by a separate shooter. This is not the case. You’re in an open room and there are separate little stalls, like horse stalls, and each shooter is herded into one of these little blocks and shoots. Someone really could just turn around and blow a hole through my brain. But for some reason, this doesn’t worry me. I am holding a gun and it is the best illusion of safety ever.

The guy has to help me with the right way to hold the Glock, which I shoot first. He has to show me twice and I tell him I am Canadian, and make the casual comment that I’m sure this will explain a lot. He laughs. I finally get a handle on the gun and fire my first few shots (with a lot less kickback than I was anticipating after watching youtube videos of unsuspecting and foolish girls shoot guns and then gain a black eye and some broken teeth due to the kickback). I pierce the paper but miss any semblance of the target. But after those misses, I’m really feeling it and I get every other round into the designated area with 3 hitting the black circle in the middle. A shell flies into my cleavage after a few shots and I feel it burn a little before it bounces out. Shooting this gun is awesome.

I empty the 20 rounds and the gun jams twice, but in the end I’m pretty impressed with myself, and the lanky dude is, too. He strings up the Nazi Zombie target and hands me the AK47. After a brief lesson on how to hold and fire this gun, I let off a spray of rounds and manage to miss despite taking my time to aim. He adjusts the butt of the rifle so it is sitting between my shoulder and breast, saying he doesn’t want it to recoil and hit me in the chin. The kickback on this gun is essentially non-existent, but it pulls to the right and left strongly, which is a weird sensation given what I was expecting. I try my best to aim and let fly with the spray of bullets again and within 50 shots I manage to shoot the paper off the clips, and wound my Nazi zombie in the thumb. “Welllll, he won’t be using that thumb anymore,” the guy says when he brings the target back for me. He does remark that shooting it right off the clip was actually a really great shot, there’s just not really any proof of it. I thank him and leave the weird little shooting room.

My dad is waiting for me outside and I don’t think he’s ever been prouder of me, as he insists on telling everyone we meet after this occasion that “my daughter shot an AK47.” Priorities.

I roll up my targets and explore the rest of the store before we leave. Guns have an interesting culture behind them. Mostly I observe and eavesdrop as usual and end up spending about twenty minutes doing this. A young man behind a glass case is explaining the benefits of various handguns to a couple. All parties are interested and enthused. Before I leave I see there are a number of free educational materials at the front door. I am giddy about the hilarity and ridiculousness will undoubtedly be contained in the pages of these pamphlets – public education material is always accidentally humorous. I grab 3 pamphlets about varying aspects of gun culture: “Guns and You”, I think one of them is called, and one about guns for children. Start ’em young, I guess.

When I get back home, everyone comments on my gun-shooting. I can tell we’re back in Canada because people are legitimately impressed with the fact that I wielded firearms. I am excited to share my AK47 experience with my Ukrainian professors, because the AK47 is a huge part of Russian, Ukrainian and Soviet history. I tell one of my profs about shooting the gun. He asks me how I found it and I said it was impossible to aim. “This is the way it is with the AK47,” he says, sagely. His wife, who also teaches me, told me the first day of class that she used to teach marksmanship when she was growing up in the Soviet Union, and could assemble and disassemble an AK blindfolded. She became my personal hero that day. I don’t say so but she inspired me to shoot an AK47.

—Brianna Berbenuik

  9 Responses to “Shooting Guns: Essay — Brianna Berbenuik”

  1. I thought people went to Vegas to get married. . . .

  2. Great piece! I use to go to Vegas every year for work, and I always want to go to that shop and shoot those crazy guns. Thanks for the detailed read and pics–the essay was vicariously satisfying!

  3. Great essay. I’m glad to know that ladies get a free t-shirt included with their two targets (and I never knew there was such a thing as a “Pink AK47”). Unlike Martin, this was something I never knew I ever wanted to try.

  4. Great little essay. I love how the author has captured the sense of how disturbing this activity is, while at the same time, sheer fun!

  5. Very nicely done.

  6. nice work.
    next step: go to a US gunshow and see what is available to take home…
    Let me recommend an SKS, also with a long Eastern pedigree, a kind of mother to the AK, and nicer furniture than cheap utilitarian AKs .
    And, in case you think you are alone in the (heretofore) secret thrills department: where I live, on friday evenings, psychiatrists from the mental health unit meet at the rod and gun club…

  7. Living in America, the South, I can truly relate to this culture. It seems like most people where I live is like this. I personally don’t see the pull. Though, if zombies start attacking me they will become my heroes.

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