Over the past month, there's been a lot of hubbub over the opening of Lock & Load Miami, a machine gun shooting range in the heart of Wynwood, the city's artsy neighborhood. Some locals expressed bewilderment to the Miami Herald that the range might find itself out of place amid all the cynical hipsters who make Wynwood tick. Cultist, however, recently opined the artsier, hipster crowd should embrace Lock & Load Miami given Wynwood's auteurs have already embraced gun culture in their works of art.
So naturally we couldn't pass up an opportunity to visit the 22,000-square-foot armory and test out some of the weapons on hand late last week.
As soon as you walk in, you know you're not in a run-of-the-mill gun range. For starters, the owners have hung a full-sized decommissioned OH helicopter from the warehouse's high ceiling. The chopper was used in Operation Iraqi Freedom and has a gatling gun attached to the under carriage near the nose.
It hovers over a waiting lounge where you can choose one of nine themed firearms packages with menacing sounding names like "Scarface" and "Black Widow." The packages are designed for gun enthusiasts who woke up in a new Bugatti, starting from $83 to $575.
There are 18 air gun replicas of the real machine guns hanging on a wall next to the lounge. "They look and feel like the real thing," says a Lock & Load spokesman. "You can hold these replicas to get a feel for the guns before shooting them."
Here's where we need to explain the difference between the guns at Lock & Load and firearms at other gun ranges in Miami that only offer target practice with semiautomatic guns, which can only fire one bullet at a time. All the weapons at Lock & Load are fully automatic. When you keep your finger on the trigger, the gun will continue firing until it runs out of ammo. Only active police officers, military personnel, federal agents, and American citizens who go through an expensive and rigorous federal background check have access to these guns.
The owners spent more than a million dollars retrofitting the reinforced concrete warehouse to accommodate steel barriers inside the two ranges, sound proofing the walls, and installing a high end surveillance system that includes 60 security cameras, the spokesman says. In addition to offering its own firearms for target practice, Lock & Load also has a private range available to gun owners who buy a $1,500 annual membership.
We followed three instructors, Jim, Greg, and Jason -- all sporting red polo shirts, black trousers, and holstered pistols -- through two heavy doors into the 14-lane machine gun range. Greg is a retired Miami Beach Police captain who spent 20 years on the force's SWAT team. He worked alongside Jim, a retired Miami Beach Police sergeant who spent 18 years on SWAT and 12 years as the force's range master. His son Jason is currently a SWAT team member for a Broward County law enforcement agency who served seven years in the Army.
The trio taught Cultist how to grip and fire a pair of submachine guns (the HK MP7A1 and the 9mm Colt Commando rifle with a suppressor), as well as the Colt M4 rifle (the fully automatic version of the civilian semi-automatic AR-15 rifle) and the SAW M249, a weapon so powerful we had to hold it like we were an offensive lineman trying to block a charging linebacker.
It took us less than three minutes to blast holes at our paper target with all four guns. "It's ridiculous how fast you run out of ammo," Greg tells us. "It's not like the movies where the guy is shooting for eternity without reloading."
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Shooting these big guns was both exhilirating and frightening. Scary when you realize these guns are used to mow down enemy combatants in global conflicts, most recently in Iraq, Afghanistan, and northern Africa.
However there's no denying we felt an adrenaline rush lining up the red dot on our target, squeezing off full metal jackets and imagining ourselves wiping out a horde of zombie walkers.
Lock & Load Miami is officially open seven days a week from 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. at 2545 N Miami Ave., Miami. Call 305-424-8999 or visit lockandloadmiami.com.