Sore Enough to Shoot? No Need to Waste Thy Neighbor When Anyone Can Make War at the Bulletstop

updated 03/31/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/31/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

This is pure sex!" cries Paul LaVista, ripping off 15 glorious rounds in an apocalyptic one-second burst from his Heckler and Koch submachine gun.

Well, maybe not pure sex, but the customers are streaming into LaVista's BulletStop gun shop and shooting gallery for something. And there is, inarguably, a certain sensuality to an automatic weapon. Cradle the smooth black machine in your hands and feel the cool metal warm to your palm, then heat up as smoke and flame and hurtling lead blast out of the barrel. Intense. And the pleasure is available to anyone with $10 in his pocket who strolls into LaVista's Marietta, Ga. establishment to rent the submachine gun of his dreams—be it a legendary Thompson from gangland or a Miami Vice-style Ingram MAC-10 or one of those handy H & Ks or UZIs favored by the Secret Service. You can shoot off as much ammo as you can afford at $10.75 for a box of 50 9mm shells—about three seconds' worth if you have a heavy trigger finger.

If there is anything perverse about firing lethal weapons for fun, LaVista, 38, hasn't heard about it. He insists that what he's selling is wholesome family entertainment. Kids and senior citizens alike—though children must be accompanied by a parent—have gotten a bang out of LaVista's arsenal. Despite what could be taken as evidence to the contrary—bumper stickers on the wall proclaim: "This car insured by Smith & Wesson" and "I'd Rather Be Killing Communists in Central America"—LaVista maintains that his primary appeal isn't to Rambo-eyed zealots. "We don't cater to what we call the closet commando," he says. "We cater to average people who just want to have a good time. I particularly targeted the Walter Mitty market, the guys who get stuck behind a desk eight or 10 hours a day and want to do something different."

LaVista's clientele runs mostly to men—doctors, lawyers, businessmen and students. But women, usually at the urging of their male companions, have been known to squeeze off a burst now and again. "Once women shoot, you can't get 'em away from it," LaVista observes. "They generally do better than men as first-time shooters, because they don't have any bad habits to get over. They haven't paid attention to anything on TV."

Usually, though, the women mind the kids while the men blast away in the indoor range or pore over the long glass counters where rows of black and silver pistols lie peacefully spooning, butt to barrel and barrel to butt. The showroom is alive with the shrieks of little children playing with the pull toys and dolls LaVista's bright-eyed wife Kathy has set out for them. "Did you ever see so many kids in a gun store?" she says cheerfully. "It kind of makes things more homey."

LaVista is well aware that commerce of this sort might have its critics. "But it's pretty hard to dispute our activity," he says. "This is gun control in its purest form right here. The weapons never leave. Nothing but the experience leaves. We don't breed any monsters. We don't do anything weird." Indeed, so solid were the citizens blasting away in the rear of LaVista's shop one recent afternoon that they could have formed an instant Kiwanis club. A telecommunications specialist brought his own .357 Magnum revolver. After pumping a neat little cluster of holes in the chest of a human-silhouette target, he tried to explain the source of the tingle. "I enjoy anything that deals with accuracy," he said. "It's just like bowling. Bowling is actually a form of shooting; you just do it with a bigger ball."

The analogy may be less strained than it seems, since bowling pins ("Communist bowling pins," some of the shooters call them) are among the targets of choice at the BulletStop. But the variety of surrogate victims is limited only by the imaginations of the gunmen. "You name it and it's been shot here," says LaVista with a grin. "My only rule is that it's got to be already dead. If they can get it in the door, they can shoot it." At one time or another bullets have been pumped into a brand-new commode (brought in by a plumbing contractor); a balky computer printer (its disgruntled owner, after carefully removing his coat and tie, blew it away and packed up the smoking hulk to ship back to the manufacturer); a self-propelled vacuum cleaner ("Took three or four good bursts to stop it," LaVista recalls. "That was a tough son of a gun—American-made"); and, perhaps predictably, an entire guerrilla army of subversive TV sets.

"I bet we've had 50 television sets meet their end here," LaVista says with a satisfied puff on his Nicaraguan cigar. "I remember one guy, he brought in an expensive TV. He'd never been able to get this thing to work right. It was a 19-or 20-inch. We loaded him up, plugged this TV in, and it was a perfect, perfect color picture of a football game. He just came unglued—blew it to pieces."

Of course, people don't necessarily confine themselves to shooting up technology. Sometimes they blow away other people—or at least photographic representations of same. "As long as it doesn't offend anybody, I don't care," says LaVista, a tolerant man. "As long as it's in reasonably good taste, you know, like old girlfriends. One gal brought in a picture of her ex-husband. I'd rather have it in the form of a gesture than have it really happen."

Of such gestures are small fortunes made. In the year since LaVista began renting hand and machine guns, more than a million rounds have been fired and some 24,000 pounds of scrap lead have been recovered from the bin in front of the BulletStop's armor-plated backstop. Moreover, no competition has surfaced. The BulletStop, says its proprietor, is unique in this country and likely to remain so, given what he calls the "astronomical" cost of insurance. He is able to run the place at a profit, he says, because it's "just an extension of what we do anyway"—namely, selling and exporting weapons, and offering security services and training to "the national and international business communities and approved governments." ("Situational Awareness and Counter-Terrorist Orientation, three days/27 hours, all weapons and ammunition provided" will run you $1,800, according to LaVista's special-services brochure.)

LaVista, who says his father was involved in U.S. intelligence, parts with other details of his own shadowy life about as readily as he would relinquish the stainless steel .45 strapped to his hip. But he does acknowledge having done some security work for Rhodesia—when there was a Rhodesia—and for "U.S. government-approved entities" in Southeast Asia, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Guatemala and pre-revolution Nicaragua, among other places too numerous or too secret to mention. Now he has settled down at the BulletStop, and he would like to settle one down near you. He aims within the year to open BulletStops under limited partnerships in Texas and Virginia, and he has his sights set on a location in Florida. Praise the Lord, pay the $10 and Paul LaVista will be more than happy to pass the ammunition.

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