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Kiss kiss, bang bang

By: Phoenix J Posted: January-28-2012 in
BIG GUNS: cocked and ready
Phoenix J

The Tommy gun roars into life in my grip, spitting bullets at a paper gangster pinned to a wall of sandbags 50 metres in front of where I sit, hunched over a desk, cold metal cradled against my cheek. It will be 24 hours before my hearing fully returns.
Billed as the ultimate anti-bandit gun in Prohibition-era America, ‘the gun that made the ‘20s roar’ was also the weapon of choice for Chicago mob boss Al Capone, whose first use of the Thompson in 1926 killed a bootlegger, a politician and an assistant state attorney. Today, however, it is mine.

A few years ago, Cambodia’s armed forces hit on a novel way of reducing their weapons stockpiles, vicious reminders of the bloody decades that followed World War II. When gun laws were finally tightened in 2005, those weapons were re- cycled on the nation’s shooting ranges as entertainment.

The much-thumbed pages of the menu at this particular range read like a starter pack for aspiring warlords, from discreet 007-esque hand guns to devastating rocket-propelled grenade launchers. A trio of German backpackers finger the fading photo of an AK47 on page one – a favourite among the predominantly European and Australian clientele, say staff.

Developed in Soviet Russia by Mikhail Kalashnikov in the 1940s, the AK remains the world’s most popular assault rifle among regular armed forces and terrorists alike. “We want this one.” The paratrooper nods and shuffles out, leaving us alone.
Just inside the main door of the brick hut, also known as Thunder Ranch, stand two tables, a few plastic picnic chairs and 50 menacing machine guns. Five metres away there’s a small fridge, crammed with frosty cans of Angkor. This would never happen in Britain.

Being Cambodia, however, Health and Safety is gloriously unheard of and there isn’t a single bullet-proof vest in sight. The soldier, joined by another who’d been playing ball in the shadow of two Chinese tanks when we pulled into the court- yard, steers us through a wood- en door into the narrow gallery beyond, dumping the guns with a thud.

The Tommy gun feels reassuringly heavy. Far heavier than the ear defenders, which get shrugged off the moment our host turns his back to feed bullets into the barrel (Capone wouldn’t have worn them; neither would Bonnie and Clyde). Fifteen rounds slide in - several of which jam while I’m shooting - but not before $50 is pressed into an expectant hand. The paratrooper musters his best Al Pacino, with a heavy Cambodian accent: “Say hello to my little friend...”

An AK47 with 30 bullets is $40. Firing on fully automatic at 60 rounds per second, that’s about 0.5 seconds of entertainment. Also gracing the menu are the Uzi, M16 and various Cold War killers. Feeling ostentatious? Firing an RPG, which could vaporise a small building, costs $350. This is beyond the scope of this small suburban outpost, though, and involves a 45-minute trip into the countryside, where “you must please fire into the mountain side.”

A few years ago, the really twisted could buy live targets. Lobbing a hand grenade at a flock of chickens cost $15, while incinerating a cow fetched $300 (and that was just for the beast; the rocket-propelled grenade cost a further $350). Pressed on whether it’s still possible, the paratrooper breaks my gaze for a second. “No more, no more” he says eventually, shaking his head (Cambodia, a Buddhist nation, isn’t proud of its violent history and in 2001 then King Norodom Sihanouk publicly appealed for the slaughter of animals on firing ranges to cease). RAT-A-TAT-A-TAT! The stench of cordite stings when it meets nostril. Loud pings punctuate the deafening chatter of gunfire as casings ricochet off dusty concrete. The AK is a hit with the Germans, none of whom have ever handled a gun before: “So easy to use!” The trio wave their target aloft, poking a trigger finger through each ragged bullet hole. No one seems to mind that we haven’t killed our own dinner.

Kambol shooting range, on Pochentong Road, is about 15km outside of Phnom Penh. Go past the airport on Russian Boulevard, then follow National Highway 4 until you see the sign for the village. If you’re in Siem Reap, take the road to Bantei Srei temple: there’s a shooting range on the grounds of the 4th Battalion Military Training Centre, a 30-minute drive from town. Wherever you are, the easiest option is to flag down the nearest tuk-tuk or moto and ‘shoot’ the driver with double-barrelled fingers. He’ll know exactly where you want to go.


This article was 1st published in The Advisor - All back issues are available as downloads here

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