MOHAVE COUNTY, Ariz. —
The night sky is red, the air acid. The .50-caliber guns thunder away. Spectators in shooting glasses, hoodies, and ear protectors run past Goldsmith taking iPhone pictures. Goldsmith ignores the theatrics. He's got a 95-year-old machine gun on the table in front of him, and he's got to figure out how to coax it into shooting once again.
I have breakfast at the Hampton Inn in Kingman with Darwin Edwards, 66, an atheist, a world traveler, and a retired pathologist who lives in Kentucky. He admires Hunter S. Thompson and G. Gordon Liddy for their courage and fearless individualism. He says his greatest challenge is fitting into the Louisville social scene, where guys talk mostly about football or basketball, which bore him.
Edwards shoots in jeans and a plaid shirt instead of camouflage. He has no interest in any guns except for machine guns. He likens regular guns to pot and machine guns to crack cocaine.
A few days before the Big Sandy Shoot, he packed his toolbox, ammo, an ice chest, and three machine guns (a Vickers World War I machine gun, a Browning World War II anti-aircraft machine gun, and a Vietnam-era M-60 machine gun) into his wife's white Mercedes-Benz SUV and drove to Arizona with his friend John Paskey, a soft-spoken retired chemical engineer who works in the photo department of his local Walmart. (Paskey brought along his .50-caliber bolt-action rifle.)
Like most Americans, Edwards favors universal background checks because, he says, background checks would help keep guns out of the hands of "criminals and mentally ill people."
"I wanna be honest with you," Edwards says, "a lot of gun owners are not well-educated and not terribly bright."
He pegs many of his fellow shooters as "ultraconservative guys" who "don't think things through." Edwards says most gun owners are "100 percent against the Obama presidency" and "automatic Tea Party people."