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Home on the Range

Gun-shy New Yorkers learn to defend themselves while embracing their inner Dirty Harry.

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Andy Massimilian and Marilyn the tax adviser: Ask questions first, shoot later.  

Y ou may never be able to thwart a hijacking like Bruce Willis, or stop a chemical-weapons attack like Jack Bauer, or glower at a street punk while leveling a .44 Magnum at his head like Dirty Harry. But thanks to Manhattan Shooting Excursions and its “Handguns of Hollywood” course, you can at least fire the same types of guns wielded by those action heroes. And glower. You’re perfectly free to glower.

Manhattan Shooting Excursions is run by Andy Massimilian, a cheerful 43-year-old former mergers-and-acquisitions consultant who picked up my fellow participants and me near Columbia University early on a recent Sunday morning. To escape New York City’s strict handgun rules, he drives our group of ten to a shooting range near Danbury, Connecticut. Few of us have ever held a handgun before. (I shot a .44 Magnum once at my uncle’s cabin in Pennsylvania, and it nearly took my arm out of its socket.) Marilyn, a petite fortysomething tax adviser, tells me she made a list of three things she’d never tried: Ride a horse, fly a plane, and shoot a gun. “And as Andy told me, you can’t really control a horse,” she says. When I ask Rudy, a 31-year-old IT manager, why he’s here, he says, “I’d just like to know how to use a gun in case I ever need to. You know, after 9/11 and stuff.” Others in the group echo this just-in-case survivalist rationale.

At the Wooster Mountain Range, Andy breaks out the hardware. “Let’s look at a friend of mine, the .45 Longslide” (the gun from The Terminator). He explains how to load it. “You can either pull the slide back with your hand or use this lever—whichever you think looks cool.” We’ll also be firing as-seen-on-TV handguns like the Heckler & Koch (from 24) and the Beretta 92 (from Die Hard). But Andy stresses that “most of what you see in Hollywood is nonsense.” For example, holding a gun pointed skyward, à la Charlie’s Angels. “I call that the Sabrina,” he says dismissively. On the firing range, we converse semi-confidently in Andy’s jargon, wearing our “eyes” (plastic eye-shields) and “ears” (headphones) while “the line’s hot” (people are shooting at things). Even Marilyn, who’d been hesitant earlier, has caught a bit of “Yippie-ki-yay, motherfucker!” fever. “That Beretta is nice!” she says. As a treat, Andy lets us empty one magazine, eject it to the ground (just like in those John Woo movies!), then pop in a fresh one: “This is a speed combat load, for when you’re in a bad situation,” he says. And, standing there, popping off ten shots at the paper targets placed, somewhat mercifully, about twenty feet away, I think we do feel like, yes, we’re all now a little better-equipped to handle a “bad situation,” whatever that might be.

It’s dark as our van heads back into the city, and Andy stops for gas. “I don’t want to run out in a bad neighborhood,” he explains. “Then again, we probably don’t have to worry.”

“We’ve got a van full of ten qualified shooters!” says Rudy.

“Yeah, as long as the bad guys stand ten feet away and don’t move at all,” says the guy seated next to me. “We’ll be fine.”

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