Remembrance of Things Past, or as currently translated, In Search of Lost Time, is not for the faint-hearted. I began reading it as a young man and greedily sucked in the first 500 pages, began to lose traction in the next 500, and spun out completely in the second 1,000. I still return to it occasionally, knowing in the same way that I know I’ll never see all of the Rocky Mountains that I’ll never finish Proust’s 1.3-million-word masterpiece. What I gained in my time with Proust was a conviction that my own nocturnal adventures were gifts that revived past pleasures and sometimes illuminated future ones. Case in point: Lying awake one night in softly filtered moonlight beneath the ceiling fan’s gentle whir, I glanced at the bedside clock to see how much of the night remained to be enjoyed. Glowing numerals said 2:43, and off I went.
ONCE UPON A TIME, in the closing years of the 1960s, the decade one writer defined as when our country suffered a nervous breakdown, there was a kid undistracted by flower children, assassinations, moon walks, and unpopular wars. That kid, obsessed by forest and field, lake and stream, couldn’t concentrate on anything else for longer than two seconds. Today he’d be labeled ADD and introduced to the local pharmacist. But luckily he had a sympathetic father and an indulgent mother who allowed him to self-medicate with heavy doses of open air and wild places. While his peers were obsessing on cars, rock-and-roll, and girls, our protagonist, indifferent to the first two and unready for the last, extended his obsession for woods and fields to include rifles—a tough act in the Deep South, which in those days was a shotguns-only world. There was no Internet, no TV hunting channels, no virtual anything to feed his rifle obsession, so the kid absorbed hunting magazines like a sponge, coming to know the writers better than the adults in his own neighborhood. Firearms catalogs littered his room, and he rushed through homework to pore over ballistics tables and study the comparative anatomy of the Model 70 vis-à-vis the Model 700.
The years passed, and one autumn day in the early 1970s the kid wedged himself into the fork of a solitary oak in a South Alabama bean field. The Ruger Model 77 on his shoulder was only a couple of years out of the womb, but like most kids, he wanted to try new things. Winchester and Remington had been around almost since the days of stone axes, and founders Oliver and Eliphalet looked like Dickens characters. Bill Ruger, on the other hand, was dapper and hip and no older than the kid’s parents, and he built things like inexpensive .22 autoloading pistols (one of which the kid had already worn free of bluing), cowboy-style revolvers long after Colt had dumped the design, and an unlikely single-shot rifle, all of which the shooting public took to like free ice cream.
Later, Ruger would be written up in Forbes, design his own car and yacht, acquire a world-class art collection, and be compared to John Browning as a firearms designing genius. Before those things, though, Ruger announced his Model 77 bolt-action rifle about the time the kid’s obsession was peaking. For the kid, it was the right thing at the right time. His gun writer gurus called it an instant classic, though the kid struggled to see the similarity between the Model 77 and the ancient civilizations his teachers used the same word to describe. Beyond its innovative design features and uncluttered lines, reviewers were amazed that Ruger offered the 77 only in what the ad-men called “short stroke” calibers—language that would have killed it instantly in the sexually obsessed decades that followed.
The kid liked everything about the new rifle, from its clean lines down to its flattened, oddly angled bolt handle, and he meant to have one. That you couldn’t get it in the all-American .30/06 or O’Connor’s pet .270 merely added a dash of spice to its appeal. The .243 Winchester was the wunderkind cartridge of the day, claimed by some writers to drop deer like Thor’s hammer, inexplicably quicker than more powerful rounds and without their backlash. The concept being hammered out in the kid’s mind was that a Ruger 77 in .243 topped with one of the new generation of variable scopes (it would be a Weaver V7 from the old El Paso firm) was about as cutting edge as you could get. And the kid made it happen.
AS DARKNESS SETTLED OVER THE BEAN FIELD, a buck stepped out of the shadows. The kid gulped, steadied the crosshairs, and got a shot off before the shakes could introduce him to the darker side of gravitational acceleration. The buck dropped without a quiver, just as advertised. The kid never forgot the way he felt when his dad’s ridiculously finned ’59 Chevy hove into view, and he knew his dad could see him standing over his buck in the headlights.
Other deer fell to his magic .243 before the kid had a run of bad luck; accepting poor judgment and bad shooting as the real culprits lay miles of maturity into his future. In the meantime, companies were turning out new wonder cartridges, and the kid was relieved to read that his failures may have been equipment related. He dropped the .243 as quickly as it had downed that first bean-field deer, and a new obsession took flight.
If there was an “it” cartridge in the early 1980s, it was the .280 Remington. Introduced in throttled-back form to accommodate its namesake company’s semiautos and pumps, then jacked up to .270 speeds and renamed 7mm Express in an effort to bolster lagging sales, then back to the .280 when consumers found the dual names confusing, it seemed a cartridge in search of an identity. But the rifle cognoscenti took to it like ants after honey, and the articles poured forth like free wine. Mystical ballistic qualities were once again hinted at, and our kid, still clay to the printed word and hungry for the cutting edge, jumped in with both feet. He still liked 77s and scoured the land until he found one in .280.
Readers are likely aware of, if not familiar with “The View.” Sherri Shepherd is an actress and former co-host of “The View” who recently returned for a guest spot. Self-professed “big gun control person” Joy Behar set up a segment on the rise in gun ownership among black women, queuing up Shepherd to reveal that she is among the large number of black female new gun owners.
Shepherd shared with the audience that she, like millions of other Americans, recently became a first-time gun buyer. Shepherd said:
“During the quarantine, I felt really helpless, Joy, and we’re talking about depression, I felt [my son] Jeffrey would look at me like he was so scared. I get these little alerts in my neighborhood app about there’s going to be a march through the neighborhood and I started feeling like, ‘how am I supposed to protect my son if something happens?’”
Shepherd took steps to lawfully acquire, be trained, and familiarize herself with her firearm. She practices regularly. She did – and presumably does – everything as prescribed.
That wasn’t enough for former federal prosecutor Sunny Hostin.
Hostin admitted that she knew many black women who had acquired firearms recently but quickly pivoted to the supposed inherent risks of firearm ownership. She claimed having a firearm in the home increases the risk of homicide and suicide but offered no references. The research that supports such claims is based on a flawed methodology to support a predetermined outcome. We’ve covered some examples here and here.
Hostin claimed she knows “the statistics” and referenced going to crime scenes as a federal prosecutor. Vaguely referencing advocacy masked as research does not afford anyone special insight into firearm ownership, nor does witnessing the aftermath of criminal actions.
After all, we know with certainty that criminals do not lawfully acquire the firearms they use in crimes. Hostin was a former federal prosecutor who won an award for prosecution of child sexual predators and child sex abuse. Her experience at crime scenes is very unlikely to be relevant to the lawful gun ownership exemplified by Sherri Shepherd – or a hundred million other law-abiding American gun owners.
Hostin concluded her soap box sermon with “”I still believe that in this country our readiness to sort of allow arms to be purchased at will and fired at will has led to violence and hatred becoming a really popular pastime.”
A former federal prosecutor should really know the difference between criminal and lawful actions. A former federal prosecutor should also know that federal law requires retailers to conduct a background check before all firearms purchases, and that the background check requirement as well as the prohibiting factors were codified in the 1968 Gun Control Act.
But that’s the game, right? Try to drum up some in-group credibility by claiming you or your friends own guns, and then blur the lines between lawful gun ownership and criminal behavior. Just like the drivel presented as “statistics,” this is a worn-out trope.
Shepherd tried to explain to her fellow panelists on “The View” and the audience that she found arming herself to be empowering. It seems that all Shepherd wants is a chance to keep her son and herself safe. “If something happens, I can protect my child.”
That’s what the 2nd Amendment provides: a chance.
Sherri Shepherd is just one of hundreds of thousands of black women who became first-time gun owners. The year 2020 may be over, but interest in firearms has not passed. The National Shooting Sports Foundation estimates that 3.2 million people purchased a firearm for the first time in the first half of 2021. More than 90% of licensed firearms retailers reported an increase in black female customers in this time frame – along with sizeable increases in every other demographic group.
That’s in addition to the estimated 8.4 million new gun owners that joined our community last year. Approximately 11.6 million new gun owners in 18 months.
That’s a lot of people who, just like Sherri Shepherd, just want a chance to protect their loved ones.
There is nothing irresponsible or unlawful about that.
Twice a year for the past half-century or so, the rolling hills around the small Kentucky town of West Point have echoed with the sounds of full-auto rifles, booming explosions, and the roar of the crowds at the Knob Creek Gun Range’s Machine Gun Shoot. But while the gun range will continue its operations, this weekend will be the last hurrah for the venerable festival of firepower.
That’s right. The Knob Creek Machine Gun Shoot is coming to an end.
The April shoot was canceled because the COVID-19 pandemic, so crowds are expected to be big. WDRB started getting calls about traffic backups on Dixie Highway and Highway 44 before 8 a.m. on Friday, when people started making their way to the site.
Anyone who has ever attended the events over the past 50 years can describe feeling the vibration of the barrage of bullets during the open shoots. Those participating in the shoot take aim at a variety of targets including used appliances, abandoned vehicles, and barrels of fuel with pyrotechnic charges attached. When one of the bullets hits the barrels, there is a huge explosion and flames that last for several minutes.
One of the highlights of the twice-a-year event has been the nighttime shoots, which will thankfully live on in videos that have received hundreds of thousands of views online.
As you can see in the videos above, the Knob Creek Machine Gun Shoot is a big deal, drawing in thousands of attendees for a shooting celebration that’s become a treasured tradition for many gun owners. So why is it going away?
According to a comment on the gun range’s Facebook page, it’s not government intrusion or the rising cost of ammunition that’s to blame. The owners of the range say that they’re just ready to slow down a little.
Putting on these events twice a year has to be a major undertaking for the Sumner family, who’ve owned the range for decades. In another message on Facebook, the individual running the range’s account said that “we all agreed the work load is more than we want anymore,” while adding that “most won’t understand until they are in our shoes.”
I believe that most gun owners do understand, just as I imagine the Sumners are well aware of the sadness that many longtime attendees are feeling this weekend. The Knob Creek Machine Gun Shoot has become a legendary experience in the 2A community, and while it’s not the only machine gun shoot around, it’s perhaps the biggest and certainly the longest-running event of its kind.
So when last tracer round is fired on Saturday night, the 50-year history of the Knob Creek Machine Gun Shoot will come to an end. I know I’m not alone in hoping that after a little break the Sumners decide to bring the event back, but for the moment it sounds like they’re not planning on revisiting their decision. Thankfully the range itself will remain open for business, and I’m still keeping my fingers crossed that we haven’t heard the last enormous boom echo across the hills of Bullitt County.