Annual Machine Gun Shoot in Eden, VT

Camp David’s annual machine gun shoot offers gun-enthusiasts a place to find comradery

As theme parks go, the annual machine-gun shoot in Eden is a bargain.

A Friday or Saturday visitor’s pass to Camp David is just 10 bucks.

A fresh set of ear plugs will set you back a mere dollar more.

Another 10 dollars buys access to the firing line.

Within a few minutes of ambling among stacks of rifles and ammo boxes along a fairway of tent shelters, a tourist will more likely than not find himself accepting an offer to open fire against one of half-a-dozen junked cars parked against a steep embankment several hundred yards away.

Organizers at the Green Mountain Boys Shooting Club, who sponsor the event, take no formal stance against motor vehicles.

Shooting fully legal and fully automatic weapons, on the other hand, is cited as “a celebration of our independence and our freedom to exercise the Second Amendment.”

By mid-morning Friday, most discussions of independence and freedom had been eclipsed by more tangible matters: lubricating long belts of ammo; checking the coolant in century-old machine guns; comparing resale values of more recent weapons and swapping techniques for resolving the inevitable jam.

Who knew that the apparatus leaning on a stand was not a drain pipe but a World War I Lewis Gun, known in the trenches as the “Belgian rattlesnake,” that gained iconic status among Allied aerial tailgunners?

Who knew that its aluminum muzzle cowl was designed to pull cooler air across the gun barrel but more often blasted hot air back upon the shooter?

Its owner, Gary Lenk, a Connecticut resident knew. Still, he said, “It’s beautifully machined.”

Like Lenk, most of the 200 or so gunners at Camp David needed little encouragement to discuss their weaponry. Among the notable exceptions: the owner of one of the event’s two tanks.

Moments after the Pledge of Allegiance and a short prayer by a man who identified himself as Zipper, the tanks spoke for themselves. Their opening salvos dissolved the front end of an old Ford.

Then the line went “hot,” and all discussion stopped for a solid, loud hour.

Submachine guns popped, M-16s barked and the report of larger-bore rifles shuddered through the ground.

More cars crumpled; all of them eventually caught fire, and some of the fires seemed to be extinguished by succeeding hails of lead.

A tourist field-tested a 9mm MP-5 machine pistol, which seemed to writhe in his hand like an otherwise stiff snake.

Another tourist, Julia Bolshakova, of Cape Canaveral, Fla., gave it a try, and it nearly leapt from her hands.

One of the dozen safety vest-wearing line officers gestured to the gun’s owner: The woman’s control of the weapon was tenuous — and she gracefully bowed to better judgement.

Bill Moore of Johnson, another range officer, summed up the prevailing wisdom.

“People who shoot a lot tend to be very, very safety conscious,” he said.

Absolutely no alcohol or other judgement-altering drugs are allowed at the shoots, Moore added, and everyone follows the rules — even if some of the folks look like rule-breakers.

Peter Springer, of Litchfield, Conn., elaborated: “Yes, this is an esoteric crowd.”

“But I think a lot of what goes on here is pretty normal: It has to do with the transfer of energy, with what I like to call ‘oxidation reduction’ — people like to sit around and watch campfires; they like to watch race cars in flames; they go to movies where people are blowing things up,” Springer said.

“These guys are like that, too,” he added, “but they’ve done it a million times. By now, they’re just interested in the comradery,” he added.

Why machine guns?

“They’re like antique cars,” Springer said.

Jared LaMarche, who represented the Vermont company Windsor Arms at the shoot, explained: By federal law, civilians may not own machine guns manufactured after 1986 (and then, only in accordance with state law, and after submitting to a federal background check — and getting approval from a local law enforcement chief).

“There are only so many in the registry, and there are fewer of them around every year. They’re a good investment,” LaMarche said.

“The older guys bought some of these when they were $100 apiece,” he added. “Now they’ve got a $30,000 gun.”