Why shooting guns is fun
Australian swimmer Nick D'Arcy and teammate Kenrick Monk posing with guns in a picture on D'Arcy's Facebook page.
My mate was from Texas, so maybe that helps explain it. Even still, he seemed comically shocked.
"You've gotta be kiddin' me," he said, eyes wide. "You've never fired a gun before?"
I shook my head. "Nope."
Your correspondent poses with his makeshift manhood.
"No way! Never?"
I'm not much of a gun nut. That conversation was about 10 years ago, and I've since pulled the trigger on the odd rifle, but I'm far from being firearms crazy. I don't get the fascination.
Girls and guns in Vegas
Jasmine King gets her photo taken at Machine Gun Vegas. Photo: Isaac Brekken/The New York Times
Americans, though? They have a right to bear arms, as you may have heard, and many of them exercise it. Shooting is part of the culture.
So that's why, I assume, the Olympic swimmers Nick D'Arcy and Kenrick Monk rolled up at an American gun range a few weeks ago to have some fun. That's what people do in the US. It's OK.
And that's what I was doing, too, when I turned up at a Las Vegas range a few weeks ago – getting my hit of culture. Trying something new.
Firearms mightn't be the first things that come to mind when you think about culture, even in the States. The country has art galleries, great food, concert halls, sports stadia ... but Americans also like to shoot stuff, and you can't knock it till you try it. So I, like our lovely swimmers, decided to shoot stuff.
The gun range in Vegas is a nondescript building across the freeway from the famous Strip, a little brick box with a big "Fire a machine gun!" sign out the front.
Inside, jackbooted guys strut around in front of the soundproof partition while a couple of girls hand out waiver forms.
"Are you being treated for a mental illness?" my form asked. No.
"Have you ever had suicidal feelings?" it continued. No.
Check the right boxes and all of a sudden you're being taken through the large list of weapons you now have the right to blast away with. A blonde girl gave me a big American smile before taking me through her favourite weaponry.
"Now," she said, "do you wanna shoot the M4, the AK-47 or the Uzi?"
"Um... What's the difference?"
"Well, they're totally different guns."
"Oh, right. Can I shoot all of them?"
"You sure can, sir."
Of course you can. So the charming blonde girl walked over to a counter and started selecting bullets, pushing them into magazine clips. Clack, clack, clack. She was done in seconds. The magazines were slid across to one of the jackbooted guys, I was given some headphones and plastic glasses, and we headed on into the range.
Brandon was helping me out that day. He had a large gun in his hands and he was motioning towards the disturbingly human-shaped target down the range.
"OK," Brandon yelled, "have you ever fired a machine gun before?"
"That's all right. This is an AK-47, I'm gonna take you through it."
So he handed me this huge weapon, and that's when it got weird. I don't really like guns, I don't think anyone should be allowed to own guns, I don't see the fascination in guns, and BOOM! I'd just fired a shot! There was a small hole a few centimetres from the centre of the target, and BOOM! I'd fired another! This was incredible!
Brandon grinned and switched the gun to automatic, braced me with a hand on my shoulder, and yelled at me to fire. Rat-a-tat-tat! Now there were about a million little holes in the paper target, spread around haphazardly, and the gun was still bucking and shuddering in my hands.
Suddenly I was Rambo, I was John Wayne, I was the Terminator. I was blasting away like nobody's business, and wow, I was having fun.
The M4 was next, with similar results – a wildly random pattern of bullet holes and a freshly crowned Aussie gun nut. The Uzi was ridiculous, this snub-nosed thing that fires out ammo with incredible speed. The bullets were still going all over the place, but who cares? I was owning this thing, until... click, click. I was out of ammo.
Brandon patted me on the back. "Do you want a photo with your firearm?" he asked.
Ha, I'm thinking, you mean one of those cringeworthy shots you always see of insecure blokes clutching onto their makeshift manhood?
So I got the photo. And then I left. I'm still no gun nut. But I'd seen another side of the US that day, and it was kind of fun. I can see why those swimmers were into it.
Have you ever gone to a shooting range – or done something you wouldn't normally do – overseas?
Follow Ben Groundwater on Twitter @bengroundwater