November 17, 2014
One of the defining recent developments in the shooting sports has been the "guntry club." That term, apparently coined by NRA online commentator Colion Noir, denotes a very luxurious shooting facility in a large urban area that offers the sort of amenities golfers have enjoyed for years at country clubs: comfy lounges, food and drink, pro shop, locker rooms, professional instruction, etc.
This is generally thought to be a good thing that marks the mainstreaming of the shooting sports, especially in the sense of appealing to new constituencies like women and urbanites. Bringing the buying of guns and the shooting of them under one roof is Marketing 101: what better place to sell a gun than a place you can immediately shoot it?
But nothing is ever gained without something else being lost, and what is passing away is gun culture the way I knew it as a young man. Gun culture in the 1960s or 70s had a smell. Musty surplus web gear. Hoppe's No. 9 and Rem-Oil. GI bore cleaner. Tobacco products of all types. Maybe a bit of mold.
It had a look, too. Blued steel and walnut, not matte aluminum and plastic. Olive drab, not camo. Canvas, not polyester. Leather, not Cordura. Paper boxes, not plastic clam packs. Florescent, not LED. .357 Mag., not 9mm. Bolt-action, not semi-auto. Tarawa, not Kabul.
And there were social norms. Just walking in with money bought you nothing. Acceptance was granted cautiously, but once earned, was unconditional. Shooting was a brotherhood, with "brother" being the operative term. To join the gun community was like joining the Masons or the Elks. There were rituals and initiations. It wasn't for everyone, especially women.
The range was a day trip someplace way off in the country, down narrow two-lane roads. Facilities were modeled on something the Army built in World War II. You shot under the open sky, and you learned by doing or maybe with the help of some gruff old Marine or Army vet who volunteered. Paid instruction? Unheard of. Keeping up the range was everyone's job, and you took your turn mowing or pulling pits or running matches. A community, governing itself, worked together. The occasional shoutfest or fistfight was just part of the "governing itself."
Learning came slowly, at the feet of men who'd done it themselves or by poring through stacks of the American Rifleman or Shotgun News. Authority came only by earning it face to face, not through snappy comments on some web forum. I was fortunate to be in a club with men like the late Walter Walsh, who'd shot in the Olympics and served in the FBI. You can't learn the things he taught on the Internet.
That gun culture is passing away, and maybe it's just as well that it does. The guntry club sells shooting the way Americans in the 21st century expect it to be sold. A building the size of a Walmart tells the public that shooting is big business and it's here to stay. Offering a wide variety of merchandise and professional instruction welcomes the new shooter who hasn't grown up in the culture, paving the way for a larger and more prosperous industry. Getting women and other groups involved is essential to us, from both the business and political standpoints.
People are too busy for clubs anymore: jobs demand extra hours; kids demand soccer games. Better just to pay someone to provide your shooting environment. Shooting facilities that are profit-making businesses can stand up better to the legal and environmental challenges any range faces these days. And they can operate on sound business principles, not the manias and phobias of a club membership.
So I'm all for more guntry clubs. They provide people what they need, and what they need has changed in 40 years.
But banging away with an AR in some indoor range is never going to be quite the same as feeling a soft morning breeze wafting over you and hearing birds chirp as you train a Model 70 on a 600-yard target. Just paying the man is not the same as running a match yourself. Sawing away on a clam pack is not the same as popping open a crisp pasteboard box.
Time passes. Things are gained. Others are lost. See you at the guntry club.