Las Vegas strip at nightEarly June and I was on the road, crossing the scorching Nevada desert—the earth a mixture of tumbleweed brown and Aztec gold—on my way with my writing partner to speak about dialogue to the Las Vegas Writers Group.  Giant billboards rose up from the bone-dry earth advertise cheap rooms, cheaper meals, and the loosest slots in town.  What caught my eye however, were signs imploring visitors to “try a machine gun” at the Gun Store. Before I began writing crime fiction a notice like that would have faded into the background, left behind in a haze of exhaust as I sped toward the slots. But inspiration—and new experiences—are everywhere for writers, and all you have to do is be willing to look beyond your comfort zone. And the best place to get out of your comfort zone is on the open road.

Not a lover of guns the ads to try a machine gun unexpectedly preyed on my mind. Perhaps it was the influence of the first thriller that I am currently working on and the need for my protag to be well-versed in guns, but I had to at least cruise by the Gun Store, maybe even peek inside to find out if the offer was legitimate. Mentioning my interest to several of the Las Vegas writers they provided directions and a little more info so, armed with the address, a vague knowledge of the general direction I was to drive, and a morbid yearning to get physically close to a machine gun, we set off the next day.

The Gun Store red signEveryone says that the recession hit Vegas very hard and there was evidence of that at casinos where slot machines sat in silence, no lines for the buffets delayed our dinner and crowds appeared smaller on popular Las Vegas Strip street corners. Yet the line of itchy-trigger-fingered guests at the Gun Store snaked around the shop like a sidewinder slithering across a deserted highway, fervent to strike. Topping out at a not-so-cheap-price of $250 to fire off rounds from a machine gun and starting at $25 to shoot 20 rounds from a Glock, the hundred or so people in line showed no fear of recession at the crowded Gun Store.

Discouraged by the long line and not budgeted for the extra cost—though no doubt the experience would be worth every penny—we approached the counter and inquired if it would be less crowded at a different time of day, it being mid-afternoon on a Friday. No, we were told, it was pretty much like this at the Gun Store all day long, all week long. The enthusiastic young man behind the counter said we could try to come back closer to closing—they stop selling the opportunity to “try a machine gun” about an hour before closing. With a steady flow of eager customers of every age—from the older men with eyes that looked as though they’d seen combat in Korea to the thin, young female decked out in pink t-shirt and pink ear protection—it was clear there’s a large contingent of people that find self-defense very cool. Don’t worry—for safety reasons they use frangible ammunition which breaks into smaller pieces upon contact with any harder substance. That knowledge made me feel better, although I am a tomboy at heart and grew up with a BB gun slung over my shoulder.

The Gun Store wall of gunsAlthough not prepared to splurge on a Gun Store package deal that trip I couldn’t resist purchasing a t-shirt, my writing partner also bought a mug decorated of course with handguns.  I am planning a trip back across the desert, my main focus not a session with those loose slots—who am I kidding, of course I’ll gamble—or stuffing myself at an overpriced buffet, but with the goal of gripping a Glock 19 in my hand and letting loose 20 rounds. Hey, they even have a Ladies package that includes 20 shots from a Glock, 10 shots from a Beretta, 2 targets and 1 t-shirt. And my birthday is coming up. To be honest, I lose more money on the slots, and, as this is for research for my new work-in-progress it’s probably a write-off.

Lights Camera Murder by Loni EmmertWherever a writer travels there is plenty to learn and experience. Someday soon I will be back in Vegas heading straight for the Gun Store to experience the sensation of a loaded Glock in my hands, and stare down the sights of a machine gun.

Loni Emmert has spent the past twenty-six years working in the music industry and writing press releases and magazine articles and now has returned to her passion of fiction writing. A member of both RWA and SinCLA, Loni divides her time between work, writing and pampering her very spoiled Malti-Poo dog, Cookie. She is also a native Southern Californian and resident. Her first two novels, Button Hollow Chronicles #1: The Leaf Peeper Murders (co-written with her sister P.I. Barrington) and Lights! Camera! Murder! are both cozy mysteries. She is currently working on her first thriller.  Website