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Nuts & Bolts

August 1, 2013

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

MOHAVE COUNTY, Ariz. — Kenton Tucker has shot machine guns most of his life. He owns several, including, he says, Errol Flynn's machine gun. Tucker, a tidy, middle-aged man with a red mustache, is a principal in MG Shooters LLC, which twice a year sponsors a machine gun shoot at its secluded range in the Arizona high desert. The Big Sandy Shoot is billed as the largest in the United States. It has an unusually wide firing range that stretches for a quarter-mile; about 200 machine gunners can fire their weapons simultaneously at exploding targets and drones. During the three-day event, about 3 million rounds of ammunition are expended.

This vast arsenal of machine guns — and their owners — are tightly regulated. Machine guns have long been among the nation's most regulated firearms. Non-military or non-law-enforcement civilians, like the guys at the Big Sandy Shoot, are required to undergo strict background checks before the federal government allows them to buy a machine gun.

Background checks were the cornerstone of gun control legislation that failed to pass in the Senate this year. Gun control advocates had hoped the measure had sufficient momentum to pass in the wake of Adam Lanza's slaughter of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012. But it didn't, thanks to lobbying by gun industry groups. A recent Pew report says most Americans don't think gun control legislation will pass this year.

As gun control debates wax and wane, and despite the fact that machine guns are already subjected to some of the strictest gun control measures advocates could hope for, there's been little scrutiny of the machine gun community to see just how well gun control works — or doesn't — in America.

The Big Sandy Shoot attracts hundreds of people who chafe at gun control yet seem inordinately proud that they have passed background checks that allow them to own machine guns. They're mostly old white guys, and they're mostly Republicans, and they hate to admit they're Exhibit A for the efficacy of gun control.

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