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A chance to touch (and fire) pieces of history

By John N. Felsher

When he was just out of high school, my father, Henry “Hank” Felsher, enlisted in the Navy as a 17-year-old kid and served as an aircraft gunner in the Pacific during World War II. He never said much about combat except, “I really liked firing the machine guns.”

When I visited Lake Martin Machine Gun in Eclectic, I finally understood exactly what he meant. I grew up firing all kinds of firearms, but never felt such sheer power and exhilaration from any gun until I squeezed the trigger on a .50-caliber machine gun, just like the ones my father shot daily 74 years ago.

Dubbed “Ma Deuce,” the Browning M2HB first entered service with the U.S. military more than 80 years ago and remains a front-line powerhouse today. Few people outside of the military ever get to fire such a gun – until now!

Established in 2016, Lake Martin Machine Gun allows customers to legally shoot a .50 caliber warhorse and several other historic and modern fully automatic firearms. The list includes some veterans of both sides during World War II such as a Thompson submachine gun, M-1919 .30-caliber machine gun and some legendary German firearms among others.

David McGirt, owner of Lake Martin Machine Gun in Eclectic, shows his wife, Jodi, how to operate a Browning M2.50 machine gun. This type of heavy machine gun has been used buy U.S. military forces for more than 80 years and is still in front-line services around the world. Photos by John Felsher

“The genesis of the shooting experience was to bring some firearms from history back to life and allow people to experience shooting those firearms in a safe, educational environment,” says David McGirt, owner of Lake Martin Machine Gun (LMMG) and a former Marine Corps fighter pilot. “Most people only see these firearms behind glass in a museum or on TV and in movies. On TV and in the movies, they are not represented accurately.”

Private citizens can legally own automatic firearms if they go through the appropriate background checks and obtain proper licensing as required by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Since LMMG completed the necessary legal procedures, people who visit the range can simply pick out whatever guns they want to shoot under the watchful eyes of trained range safety officers and instructors.

“Because of the licensing we have, we can allow people to shoot our firearms in the safe environment at our facility,” McGirt says. “These firearms belong to us. We are not selling them, but merely renting an experience to people. When customers arrive, they’ll get a little history lesson on the firearms. When customers decide what they want to shoot, instructors make those firearms ready, load them and put them on a bench rest so the customers can shoot them comfortably.”

Many people visit LMMG to celebrate a life event, such as a milestone birthday, anniversary or retirement. Corporate groups come as a team-building experience. Some people just want to fulfill a “bucket list” experience or perhaps honor a departed veteran loved one.

“All kinds of customers come see us,” says Jodi McGirt, David’s wife who serves as an instructor and range safety officer. “Many of them never held a firearm or fired one. Some people are afraid of guns, but our primary focus is for everyone to have a safe, enjoyable experience. Even people who are hesitant to shoot always have a ‘thrill grin’ of satisfaction afterward.”

Jodi grew up with a father and brothers who hunted, but she wanted more. She became an NRA-certified firearms instructor and founded the Lake Martin chapter of A Girl & A Gun Women’s Shooting League (www.agirlandagun.org). This organization helps women shooters advance to whatever skill level they wish to attain.

“I started shooting as a personal desire to learn more and get more comfortable with firearms,” she says. “It grew into a desire to share that knowledge with others, especially women. Many women might be intimidated going into a large gun shop to purchase a firearm. One of the classes I teach is about how to select the right firearm for each individual. Our objective is to improve skills for self-defense or competitive shooting and get women familiar with firearms and how to use them.”

People can also shoot their own rifles and pistols at the Elmore County range and buy ammunition on site. Eye and hearing protection are available for people who do not bring their own.

“Elmore County is honored to be home to a place where people can actually touch history,” says Cary W. Cox, of the Elmore County Economic Development Authority. “The sounds, smell and excitement of firing fully automatic firearms is not something that translates well into words or video. People must experience it.”

On this month of Veterans Day, remember those who served. To make an appointment to visit Lake Martin Machine Gun, see lakemartinmachinegun.com or call 888-660-6462.