Maybe it's the rat-a-tat sound, or the rush of firing off 30 bullets in mere seconds, or just the thrill of shooting the same famous Tommy Gun used by Al Capone and John Dillinger in the gangster wars of the 1920s.
But for whatever reason, "everybody wants to shoot a machine gun once in their life," insists Kim Smith, owner of the area's only indoor gun range that opened just east of Rapid City in mid-September. "It's a testosterone kind of thing, isn't it?"
If firing a machine gun is on your bucket list, the Smoking Gun Range & Training Center is the only place in Western South Dakota to do it legally. In a newly decked out building on the Interstate 90 South Service Road a quarter-mile east of Elk Vale Drive, Smith offers patrons the opportunity to shoot one of two $12,000 machine guns he bought to add kick to his new establishment.
But peppering targets from the 1928 M1-A1 Thompson sub-machine gun that will cost about a buck per round is only part of the attraction of the new range, which set Smith back about $1 million to get up to code and opened in an industrial building he has owned for years.
The new range has a dozen 25-yard firing lanes with filtered air, sound reduction, bullet-proof glass between lanes, lighted range-finders, and a nifty target system that allows paper targets to be drawn in or sent out and even turned to add difficulty. The back of the range is equipped with a backstop made of half-inch steel and a small turning tunnel that exhausts the shots of their power before sending the bullets into a bin for recycling.
The small retail shop also features bullets and shells of all calibers and sizes, numerous handguns and rifles for sale and rent, and accessories that will expand in number as the range grows. Amid it all stands John Glasford, a firearms expert who is there to help people use the range safely, or decide what gun they want to buy and how to use it.
"We're not about hunting or talking much about that," Glasford said. "We're primarily focused on self-defense and protection and training the first-time gun owner."
The first steps in that training for individuals or groups could be as basic as learning to hold, load and fire a weapon, Glasford said. But from there, Smoking Gun has a tool that can test and train even the most experienced shooter.
The Ti Trainer is a virtual simulator with 400 scenarios that play out on a 12-foot by 7-foot screen with crisp TV images of crimes or threats that range from a potential hold-up at an ATM machine, to a workplace shooting, to a dramatic school attack in which several police officers have already been killed.
The system is unique in that it allows for choices, and subsequent real results, to be made by the user who holds either a fake gun that shoots a lazer or a more realistic gun that has cartridges that simulate the kick-back of a real gun. The system can also be used with real guns that are shot into the simulator images that are displayed onto a paper screen on the gun range.
"It's not a video game," Glasford said. "You don't just shoot every time; if forces you to think about whether and why you should shoot."
Someone who is curious about guns or wants to buy their first weapon can visit the range and get fully outfitted in one visit and shoot that day.
Glasford and other experts will ask questions about why the gun is needed; whether a revolver or automatic feels better; and how the gun will be carried or kept. Women, for example, make up a growing number of gun owners and tend to like guns with smaller grips, or revolvers that are lighter than automatics, Glasford said.
Using the range can be had for well under $100: shooters can get an hour of range time ($25), rent a gun ($10 an hour), buy ammo ($20 a box) and get safety protection ($10 a session), Glasford said.
Smith, a local entrepreneur with experience in several local businesses, said he wanted to open the range because he used to practice shooting out the back door of his rural home and neighbors did not appreciate it. In addition, he said the closure of more National Forest ranges have limited the places where people can shoot.
"I'm a hunter, and I'm a target shooter, and it's getting harder and harder to shoot," Smith said. "I think in this area we tend to be gun owners, and people need a place to shoot."