Charlie Jacoby visits an American gunshop. At 150,000 sq feet it is three times the space of an out of town British supermarket.
We are in Las Vegas in a shop that is humungo fantasmagorically enormous. It’s a BassPro, one of three big chains which dominates hunting and shooting shopping.
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Opinion is divided on whether Cabelas, Gander Mountain or Bass Pro is the best shop. They are certainly popular. The Cabelas in both Kansas and Minnesota rank amongst the top tourist destinations in both those states and they are twice as big as the one in Las Vegas. Bass Pro’s shop in Missouri is a third of a million square feet, that is the same size of 6 football pitches or the whole of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.
British gun shops are traditionally poky little things stuck down back streets, but this is America.
I am off to see a gun shop owner who I met hunting driven wild sheep in Germany. He runs a gun shop which is small compared to Bass Pro, but offers a warmer and more friendly service and it is still twice the size of any UK gun shop.
American gunshops are colossal by European standards
“It’s a fair size, fair size for round here,” says Jim McClain, owner of Jim’s Fireamrs in Baton Rouge, LA. “We’re pretty big here, but there are bigger stores.”
Louisiana is hurricane country and when Hurricane Katrina hit nearby New Orleans it caused both spectacular devastation and billions of dollars of damage. It was however, a bonanza for Jim.
“It was very crazy time,” says Jim.
“Before you could buy your firearm and leave, it was about anything from six-to-eight hours for three days.”
Jim says he sold “Hundreds and hundreds” of guns in that time. “Literally we had one person doing nothing but calling in background checks, we had distributors coming in with literally truck loads of ammunition,” he says.
Jim McClain of Jim’s Firearms, Baton Rouge, LA
And why did everyone want these guns? “It was a time of unrest,” says Jim. “People were fearful and looking for security, also a lot of military police fire department lost a lot their guns underwater so not only do you have civilians coming in, but you also have your local police departments buying guns, ammunition, holsters, cleaning supplies – just everything went under water so quickly.”
As well as the serious business of self-defence, Jim’s Firearms is all about shooting in your leisure time.
Of course all the staff at Jim’s Firearms hunt. Jim’s staff member Blayr Hofmeester is a dove, squirrel, deer, and coyote (sometimes) hunter. She has hog hunted. She grew up doing this.
“Is this normal for a Louisiana girl?” I ask her. “Have you ever shot a gator?”
“No I have not, I have caught one though. I was fishing one day and I was reeling in my spinner bate and it snapped my line and I reeled it in and I caught it. It was about 5 foot long.
Jim shows me a two Taurus .410 revolvers and we take them – “very popular here for a snake gun for fish farmers and for deer hunters during the summer to maintain their land,” he says. “They like this to despatch snakes.
Big water moccasin, I hate those.”
Handgun action: Charlie points to his bullethole
I try shooting it and the shot spatters the target. If there had been a snake in a 4ft radius, it would have died. “Well, it’s a big snake,” says Jim.
Self defence is a major theme of American gunshops. In the UK, we have all but forgotten about sidearms following the restrictions which came in 15 years ago.
With the London Olympics coming up and Britain in with a chance for shooting medals, with handgun crime rising massively in the wake of the handgun laws, surely now is the time for the British government to start relaxing restrictions on handgun ownership in the UK.