It costs two bucks to shoot Osama bin Laden in the head. All that's required is a trip to Westside Rifle and Pistol Range in the Flatiron district, where you don't need any experience with guns to sign up for a class, and within fifteen minutes find yourself firing a .22 or 9-millimeter rifle at a $2 paper target of the Al Qaeda mastermind, clad in his signature fatigues, his vintage Kalashnikov aimed smack at . . . you.
"This is pretty damn fun!" Jamie McCarthy hollers over the earsplitting pop pop pop of the .22 that he's pointing at the terrorist's forehead. "I wonder if they'll let me try the 9. You could really blow the shit out of him with that."
After September 11, McCarthy, a hip, spiky-haired 27-year-old celebrity photographer, felt that it might be a good idea to get some practice with firearms -- if only to alleviate his mounting tension. So he joined Westside, dropped $50 for today's lesson, and applied for a handgun license (a process that can take six to nine months in gun-shy New York). "Obviously, this isn't gonna solve any problems," he says. "But I'd feel better if after a long day I could shoot a few rounds at Osama. I can't be over there with the troops, so it's sort of all I can do."
"Some people from the Japanese media came in and asked me if the Osama thing is immoral," says Robert Derrig, the gruff president of the club, which is the only shooting range in Manhattan. "I guess it is, but it appears to be what people want."
And not necessarily the kind of people you might expect. Before the attacks, most liberal-minded Manhattanites thought of guns as politically suspect, and more than a little tacky -- something for the folks who choose Nebraska as a lifestyle over Nobu. (And with Death Wish crime stats a distant memory, would-be Charles Bronsons have been far less prevalent of late.) But now, for people like McCarthy, a few hours at the shooting range may prove even more relaxing than an afternoon of yoga.
Though the Police Department hasn't tabulated the numbers yet for recent gun-license applications, Larry Goodson, a consultant who specializes in steering clients through the process, says he's "been three times busier than normal." Likewise, Derrig says that phone calls from curious New Yorkers are up, and that October membership has nearly tripled: "I had a guy say he knows he won't save the world with a gun, but he'd just feel safer if he had something at home and knew how to use it."
As McCarthy heads back to work, he passes a man named Dean and his fiancée, Adeliza, in the Westside's bare-bones lobby. The thirtysomething couple have also decided to become members. "Look, I don't want to sound alarmist," Dean says, "but just say there's a biological attack, or something massive where the city is evacuated. There's gonna be chaos, looting in the streets, all that. I just want to be prepared." Adeliza, who grew up with gun-owning parents in Puerto Rico but has never fired a shot, has a less apocalyptic outlook. "I'd just like to learn how to do it. I want to buy one of those little James Bond-type guns. My mother says they can't hurt anyone, but I just want to be cool."