Ana Veciana-Suarez

A theme park that glorifies gunplay? I’ll pass

Non-firing, assault-style replica firearms on display at Machine Gun America in Kissimmee, FL.
Non-firing, assault-style replica firearms on display at Machine Gun America in Kissimmee, FL. TNS/Orlando Sentinel

Oh, wowee, I’ve found the perfect attraction to visit during our next vacation — and only a three-hour car ride away, too. I’m always looking for places that promise to hold the attention of a family that argues over which restaurant to go to for dinner.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been emailing my five adult children to coordinate a summer trip. Finding a mutually acceptable place and date has been quite the challenge. But then I read about Central Florida’s newest theme park and, in a moment of euphoric shock, thought: Now, this might just be the spot.

I can just see it now. We’ll float along on the It’s a Small World boat ride at The Magic Kingdom, traipse with Harry Potter at Universal Studios and then head to Machine Gun America to shoot a few rounds with the Uzi-style weapon of our choice.

How very clever, how very original! The family that shoots together stays together. I wonder if my four sons, who used to get a kick out of pounding opponents on the gridiron, might enjoy the recoil, the deafening noise, the firepower. Bizarre enough, no? Then again, maybe not. Adulthood has made them surprisingly staid. That’s what happens when you enter a math-related career like accounting or actuary science or financial analysis. Now writers — we’re an adventurous, shoot’em up bunch. Oh yes!

But I digress.

Machine Gun America is the hot new place along the U.S. Highway 192 tourist strip in Kissimmee, home of such wholesome spots as Osceola Pioneer Village and Chocolate Kingdom (I’m not making those names up, really!). Billing itself as the first "Automatic Adrenaline Attraction," Machine Gun America opened just in time for Christmas and, according to news reports, is doing a brisk business. I wouldn’t have expected otherwise: the firepower they offer lives up to the hype.

Packages start at $99 and include a variety of themed environments. Choose Gangster Land and you can shoot "legendary guns and join the ranks of infamous gangsters." In Special Ops, participants can "get up close and personal with military-style firearms." My favorite, though, is Automatic Divas, where ladies are told they can "unleash your inner Femme Fatale and feel the rush of firing real machine guns with live ammo!" Available guns? M4, MP5, Glock17.

Sign me on and suit me up. My neighbor and friend, a retired cop, has offered to take me to his favorite shooting range, but, by golly and gee whiz, a trip north to this fantasy world sounds like fun. Targets are probably much more lifelike, too.

I’d be lying if I wrote that I’m not just a teensy bit curious about Machine Gun America. But the concept of a shoot-‘em-up theme park also makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. This year experts say gun deaths will surpass deaths caused by car crashes. And just last summer a 9-year-old girl accidentally shot her instructor with an Uzi at a similar tourist attraction.

Machine Gun America claims it’s a stickler for safety. It should be, if they’re allowing walk-ins and kids as young as 13 to handle automatic weapons. But my discomfort goes beyond that: What kind of society romanticizes killing? How can we allow anyone off the street access to seriously dangerous weapons? What message are we passing on to our teenagers when we equate gunplay and violence with a spin in the Gravitron?

I have a steel-lined, barf-proof stomach, but I think I’ll stick to The Incredible Hulk roller coaster in Islands of Adventure. For my own sense of thrills and morality.

Follow Ana on Twitter @AnaVeciana.

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