The sign outside my local gun club is short and to the point. "Kung Fu my ass," it reads. "Try to karate chop a bullet!" It's difficult to argue with that logic, particularly with someone who's got a Smith & Wesson tucked into his waistband. So we signed a hefty disclaimer, took a deep breath, and asked the manager which lethal weapons we ought to experiment with on his firing range.
He suggested a Glock semi-automatic for the ladies ("don't let it eject hot bullet casings into your cleavage!"), and a Heckler & Koch, all sleek and Germanic, for boys. Finally, with a knowing wink, he completed our arsenal with a .44 Magnum – the very gun that made Clint Eastwood feel lucky in Dirty Harry.
After that, my friends and I purchased several boxes of ammo, a wodge of paper targets, and spent Sunday afternoon blasting holes in pictures of sneering burglars, gun-toting hijackers, and Osama bin Laden.
This was partly journalistic research. Lately, there's been renewed speculation that America's endless high-school shootings and random killings (there was another massacre in Alabama the other day) may curtail the right to bear arms.
Naturally, the gun lobby is readying for a fight. The reception area was filled with National Rifle Association membership forms, stars-and-stripes bumper stickers and books with titles like Own a Gun & Stay Out of Jail. The club's manager said that, like most colleagues, he's recently observed an "Obama bounce" in firearm sales to people convinced that (despite the lack of any real evidence) America's new President wants to take away their precious guns.
And while I'm still not sure where I stand on all this, I do at least now know one thing: the all-American tradition of firing hot lead into thin air, with very large weapons, represents some of the best fun you can have with your trousers on.
Shooting for fun
The next-door lane was occupied by an off-duty police officer. Is there anywhere local, I asked, where you can shoot at moving targets? "Yes," he replied, cheerily, "South Central Los Angeles." In the LAPD, that's apparently an in-joke.
Eric the snake
The Russian conductor Valery Gergiev, in town with the London Symphony Orchestra, was seated near to Eric Idle at a fundraising dinner for the Segerstrom Center in Orange County last week. Unfortunately, having been denied Western TV in the Cold War, the maestro was unaware of Idle's lofty status. "What is this Monty Python?" he asked. "Is it some kind of a snake?"