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March 18, 2010 | 12:00 a.m. CST
CORRECTED CAPTION: Target Masters employee Daren James test fires a few rounds out of a 1911 government model .45. An earlier version of this caption misidentified the subject as Mike O'Dell. *CORRECTION: The gun O'Dell described is a piston-driven AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. An earlier version misidentified the gun as an air rifle.
The shooting range is a Second Amendment sanctuary. Worshippers separated by plastic panels line up side by side and wordlessly shoot bullets into paper targets.
Every shot reverberates in the large hall where the targets hang from pulleys. The sidewalls are white and long. On the left side of the range is a large bald eagle posing in front of an American flag.
Target Masters is an indoor climate-controlled shooting facility in Columbia. The sound from the range permeates two layers of thick glass and a heavy door to the shop, where operations manager Barry McKenzie and his employee Mike O’Dell greet customers and talk guns. They seem oblivious to the noise. O’Dell only occasionally turns to look through the glass at the shooters.
O’Dell grew up in rural Missouri shooting rifles and shotguns and loved to hunt. He had a handgun when he was younger, but he got rid of it. Rifles and shotguns remained his weapons of choice.
“The bug bit again,” O’Dell says with one hand over his holster.
He explains the piston-driven AR-15 semi-automatic rifle* while twisting and turning the vicious, sleek black weapon.
“You can dunk it in water,” O’Dell says, his voice speeding up with excitement. “It’s the gun of the new Army.”
The noise from the range mimics the heart beat of a patient threatened with cardiac arrest. The inconsistent tempo speeds up, then slows. Silence reigns as targets fly back and clips are reloaded. When nine out of the 10 lanes in the range are busy, the collective arrhythmia of the sanctuary develops into a chaotic frenzy. If someone heard this cacophony anywhere but at the shooting range, he or she would duck and cover.
As customers exit the range, a hint of gunpowder clings to their clothes. A kitschy wooden block on the wall behind the counter — the kind that usually reads “Mom’s Kitchen” or “Home is Where the Heart is” — stands out from the other signs, most of which are warnings, policies and advertising. The block has a small illustration of a pistol and reads, “We don’t call 911.”