The Knob Creek Machine Gun Shoot
- Rolling Stone, June 2016
And he likes to shoot his gun
But he knows not what it means
Knows not what it means
One always has preconceptions. As you get older you learn that those feelings usually don't deserve to be considered because they never ring true.
I went to the Knob Creek Machine Gun Festival in Kentucky, right next to Fort Knox, and even though I was trying to stay open minded, I did have my ideas about what to expect.
There is a feeling of paranoia looming over the event. That fear isn't caused by the weapons but by the organizers themselves. The brochure says in capital letters: NO MEDIA REQUESTS, then below "don't ask".
The rotors of a Huey (a helicopter mainly used during the Vietnam war and another piece of the vital museum) are flapping overhead while the bright- echoey sound of machine guns firing can be heard all day.
My goal was to somehow find a way into understanding the American fascination with guns. More and more do I question US- mainstream movies' treatment of the third act in their stories: the destruction, mostly by extreme violence with guns, of the bad guy. Very seldom do the people causing death by gunfire get affected by it. There is no emotional toll for killing. Those scenes can be seen by anyone, at any time during the day.
The main event of the machine gun shoot itself, is not about marksmanship but firepower and destruction. About 50 shooters are lined up and on a signal, they shoot at cars, boats, barrels filled with gasoline, fridges etc.
The stands were packed to the last seat. One local woman insisted on giving up her seat for a lady who travelled all the way from Germany. The security guy kept apologizing as he had to turn people away because there was no room. The whole "crowd" experience was much more pleasant and the officials were much friendlier than at a hockey game for instance.
As the barrels of gasoline exploded you could actually feel the heat on your face. Now and then something burning flew off into the woods. In 2008, two spectators were injured at the shoot by flying metal. Two years earlier, a shooter suffered a shrapnel injury when his anti-aircraft gun misfired.
It's impressive for the first minute or two, then it becomes mundane . A siren marks the end of the shooting cycle. Two hours later, the procedure repeats itself.
After the mayhem, the spectators get a chance to walk on the field and take a close look at the destruction. As I was walking thru the field of shot up cars, boats and fridges, I heard a voice say:
Only in America ! A man of about 50, wearing a shirt that said "disgruntled Army veteran" reached out to shake my hand. We struck a nice conversation about the presidential candidates and the immigration system in the USA. The guy had a Gung-Ho attitude I liked. He shook his head in dismay when it came to talk about destroying things. He told me about observing a deer getting shot with a machine gun during his army training. The guys had to carry pieces of the poor animal off the field and the shooter had to go to jail. When the talk came to weapons and military, he told me a heroic story about a CIA covert operation where he took the moral high ground, saved a bunch of school children and landed in prison for it. Afterwards it took a darker turn as he was recounting life during Desert Storm as a foot soldier and the efficiency of a modern weapon: the bad guys come over a hill, you aim, you hit them, they collapse, then they hear the shot, then they die.
In short, they'll be dead before they know what happened.
It's a weird parallel universe where everyone is carrying a gun in public while eating a sandwich
At the end of it, to further complicate my feelings for the event and its visitors, a stranger helped us fix a flat tire in the middle of the night. We didn't ask for his help. He stopped his truck, leaned out the window and asked if he could help in any way. He crawled under our truck, not caring about getting dirty. He wanted to forward kindness, he told me, because he had received some earlier in the day. As we shook hands in the spot lit by truck headlights, I could see that he was wearing a hat advertising the NRA.
I didn't come away with any answers. I came back more confused than ever. But I learned this: You can like guns and still be a good person.
Original article in Rolling Stone: