Shooting An AK-47 In Vietnam

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Despite residing in America for the better half of the past decade, the first time I ever held a gun was last summer in Tel Aviv. Over a few drinks at a soldier-friend’s apartment, he asked if my sister and I would be interested in having a peek at a portion of his gun collection. Nervous but always curious, we eagerly nodded. Amused by our amazement, he let us handle one of his guns (literally have no idea what it was), and we took stupid photos typical of girls playing with guns for the first time and acted in the general ridiculous way that we tend to do. Half-way through the fondle I earnestly asked him if it was loaded. To which he replied, rather snarkily, “Jenny…you + vodka + a loaded gun…no-one could ever think that was a good idea.”  He had a point.

The second time was just as unexpected.

It was while visiting the Cu Chi tunnels in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam that bizarrely the opportunity presented itself for me to shoot an AK-47. The Cu Chi tunnels are a vast network of underground tunnels that were used primarily during the Vietnam War. Upon first entrance, I observed a steady drum of popping noises. Noises which sounded a lot like gunshots. I distinctly remember keeping quiet and thinking to myself, “Hmm they must just be trying to set the mood. A futile attempt to make the experience as authentic as possible.” It wasn’t a complete long-shot. After all, in various parts of the memorial park visitors are invited to crawl through the tunnels —in order to experience the lengths but not depths (the tunnels are miniature) the Vietnamese soldiers went to defeat the Americans.

After clambering my way through the tunnels, a decision prompted by nationalistic jabs I received for being the closest thing to an American on the tour, I exited right next to a shooting range. “So that wasn’t a playlist of gunshots.”

Not at all. Those “popping sounds” were being produced by real people with actual guns. And I could try! A fact that both thrilled and disgusted me. A point I disregarded by not meditating on what these instruments were actually suited for. With a choice between an AK-47, M16, .30 Caliber Machine Gun, M60, M1 carbine, M1 Garand and Russian SKS, I went for the AK. Mostly because it was the only name I had heard before, thanks to my preference for ordering it in coffee shops in Amsterdam.

I chose 10 bullets for around $10, put on my red earmuffs, and that was it. No security check. No questioning of my gun background (or in this case lack of). No safety briefing. Nothing. Zip. Nada. (Insert your own sarcastic poke at America’s gun laws. You said it, not me.)

…Back to Vietnam.

Did I have the slightest idea what to do?

The photo directly below confirms for me that my idiosyncrasies occasionally bring people amusement. My Vietnamese helper seemed to wholeheartedly enjoy my complete lack of gun knowledge. An alternation of frightened shouts and giddy shrieks followed once I finally built up the nerve to pull the trigger.

My only prominent memory is the weight of the gun on my shoulder. Everything else faded into a blur with the release of ten shots.

Slightly too hyped up from the adrenaline of f.i.n.a.l.l.y. shooting a gun, I handed my AK back and proceeded to sit and eat a Cornetto. The deafening commotion of gunshots fading slowly into background noise.

I still have yet to touch one in the United States.

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1 Response

  1. Heather says:

    Great post! I’ve always wondered about how guns are treated in different parts of the world. You look like you’re having so much fun in your photos, thanks for sharing!

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