Big Sandy Shoot In Arizona Draws Machine Gun Enthusiasts From Around The World

By Jimmy Jenkins
Published: Thursday, October 29, 2015 - 10:25am
Updated: Friday, October 30, 2015 - 8:12am
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(Photo by Jimmy Jenkins - KJZZ)
A Big Sandy shooter next to his weapons.

Arizona is known as a state that’s friendly to gun enthusiasts and this weekend was no exception.

About 2.3 million rounds — that’s what organizers of the Big Sandy Machine Gun Shoot estimate was unloaded over the course of the three day event. Ed Hope runs the Big Sandy Range — a square mile of desert land he bought 11 years ago to host the biannual shoot.

“Nobody else does this," Hope said. "There are about three or four other machine gun shoots in the U.S., but this is the largest.”

More than 150 machine gun owners from around the country and hundreds more spectators from across the globe came to take part in the event. Hope says they come to his range because it’s large and in a remote location — necessary precautions for firing machine guns — whose bullets can travel for more than a mile. Hope also gives them unique targets.

“I’ve got a crew of guys that fly model airplanes for these guys to shoot at and, of course, we’ll have reactive targets all through the little valley here in the hillside,” Hope said.

Explosive targets are placed throughout the range to give the shooters an extra bang for their buck. At the beginning of Saturday’s afternoon session, all the shooters had their sights set on a paper-mache duck full of black powder.

The weaponry on display is extensive and expensive. Most of the shooters have come with a small arsenal. The owners are well versed in the history and the mechanism of their machines — but many struggle to estimate their value.

In 1986, Congress banned civilian possession of fully automatic weapons, but guns made before that date are still allowed to be transferred among civilian owners. The scarcity of those guns has caused their value to skyrocket.

Big Sandy event organizers say the total value of the guns here this weekend is easily in the millions of dollars. And that doesn’t even take into account the expense of the ammunition, which can be several dollars a shot. Hope demonstrates a gun that shoots 1600 rounds a minute. And at that rate, it doesn’t take long to burn through thousands of dollars ammunition, making it an expensive hobby.

There are machine guns to rent for those who can’t afford their own. Dave Whyte is one of many spectators that traveled here from Canada. “We spent some time in the rental booth yesterday," Whyte said. "I shot a 50-caliber machine gun, a 30 caliber and a Thompson sub machine gun — the Al Capone special — Awesome! Another thing off the bucket list — it was amazing.”

He said firearms regulations in Canada are one of the reasons many Canadian gun enthusiasts travel to the U.S. “Yeah the freedom of Arizona. What they allow you guys to do down here is really an envy for the rest of the continent,” Whyte said.

At the end of the firing line is a special section reserved for heavy artillery. There’s mortars and even cannons that fire bowling balls several hundred yards.

Eric Munro is another Canadian spectator. He was surprised by the amount of firepower civilians in the US are allowed to own. “It seems reasonable to do it in this environment," Munro said. "But then to know that these guns are in people’s garages or whatever, when they leave here, its kind of a, 'Why? Why do you need a mortar in your home?' Just leave it here until you come back next year.”

It’s part of the ongoing debate over these weapons: the need for them in society versus the desire for collectors to own them. But as long as they’re still legal — the shooters at Big Sandy will be back again next year.

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