Guns and Travel: Going Rambo in Cambodia
I’m going to do my level best to avoid being too political in this post. Gun control is something I am quite passionate about, but I didn’t start Aussie on the Road to discuss politics, and I know how touchy my American friends get when I dare to question the sanity of them having automatic weapons so readily available.
Seeing the coverage of the recent incident in the US in which a 9-year-old girl accidentally killed her gun instructor with an Uzi she was far too small and inexperienced to use struck a particular cord with me, though.
It’s not that this single, tragic death affected me more deeply than the countless mass shootings that have occurred in the United States – more that I can’t ever picture myself being in a position where I think shooting a bunch of innocent people might be the solution to whatever ails me.
I have, however, been in a situation similar to that pictured in the video of that poor girl accidentally taking a life. It wasn’t an Uzi (it was an AK-47), but my instructor stood just as close and the setting was eerily similar.
Back to Cambodia
It’s February of 2013 and Nomadic American and I have just finished a sobering, tear-jerking visit to the Killing Fields.
As our tuk-tuk bounces along the dusty road back into Phnom Penh, our driver suddenly veers down an even dustier side road that takes us between rows of dilapidated houses and struggling farms. Soon enough, we pull up behind a large shed.
“You want to fire a gun?” he asks us cheerfully, apparently unaware of the uncomfortable juxtaposition that comes from going straight from the site of a massacre to a place where we can fire weapons built for murder and call it ‘fun’.
That said, the temptation is definitely there. Firing a gun is something I’ve never done and likely never will get the chance to do in Australia due to our restrictive (and bloody effective) gun control measures. It’s on the bucket list and here’s the opportunity for just $50 US. After briefly conferring with my partner in crime, it’s decided that we would like to fire a gun.
We enter into a place that bears a remarkable resemblance to a crime den – a bunch of t-shirt wearing locals playing cards while their arsenal of weapons lay scattered about the table and hanging from the walls. Rock music plays on the radio and a thick haze of cigarette smoke dances in eddies around the head of the man who approaches us.
He’s got one of those pubic hair mustaches that are probably an indication you shouldn’t try growing facial hair, and he wears aviator sunglasses that add 10% to the intimidation factor. The M16 he carries adds the rest.
“You want to fire? Check the menu”
There is a menu, actually. It’s a laminated sheet of A-4 paper onto which a list of weapons and prices has been listed. The cheapest option would be to fire a pistol, but the $50 AK-47 deal looks pretty good to us.
Farther down the list there’s the option to throw a grenade (also $50) or fire an RPG ($150). They push us in this direction, or try to tempt us with firing one of the larger stationary guns – but we’re on a budget and I’m something of a pussy, so we settle on the AK-47.
Training to Fire a Gun in Cambodia
I can’t say that I was given exhaustive training before being handed a weapon with which I could do a substantial amount of damage. I’m shown where the trigger is, how to switch between single shot or automatic, and reminded to wear my headphones at all times.
Then I’m shown how to brace the stock of the weapon against my shoulder and told to have at it.
We’re still in the large, corrugated iron shed. My target is a simple paper job at the far end of a long alley littered with sawdust and shell casings.
I’ve had all of sixty seconds between arriving at the firing range and being given the go ahead.
Here goes nothing.
The first few shots are fun. I can definitely see the appeal that gun enthusiasts see in letting off some steam by squeezing the trigger and feeling all that power buck back against them.
Ever the competitor, I try my level best to actually strike the target with a few shots before I’m encouraged by my doubtlessly impatient instructor to switch to automatic.
The rest of my clip is expended in record time. I doubt many of those shots manage to hit the target, either.
Nomadic American tries her luck next, and though she’s fired a gun before, her target comes back largely unscathed.
Mine? I landed more than a few on my stationary paper assailant. Who knew I’d have something approaching an eye for this when I’m going slowly blind in one?
We’re encouraged to try more weapons (and spend more money) before we leave, but we settle instead for posing with various weapons and trying to look more bad-ass than the scared tourists who’d entered the dingy shed not long before.
I found the experience to be entertaining for what it was, but I couldn’t help feeling that a younger or less well adjusted person might have left with an entirely unrealistic view of guns. They are not toys, however much they might have felt like toys as I brandished them like Rambo. I’m not against the idea of using guns for recreation, but I do think that you should be responsible and mature enough to be considered an adult before you’re handed a death-dealer and told to have at it – regardless of who is supervising you.
But that’s delving dangerously close to politics, and I already get enough hate mail for my 10 Reasons I Hate Living in Australia post…
Have you ever fired a weapon while abroad? Do you think it’s acceptable to do so? Or does it encourage an unrealistic view of guns and gun safety?
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