Kathleen James and her family have been running the Arms Room out in League City for four years. Two months ago the family team moved the operation into the old Circuit City location off the Gulf Freeway, next to a Super Target. Gotta love suburban sprawl.
The Arms Room held its official grand opening party on Saturday, complete with a performance artist outside juggling and spinning fire, a clown making balloon animals, ESPN 97.5 FM, a barbecue stand, free cake, and of course a few blonde, tattooed girls handing out free Arms Room merchandise and making wives and girlfriends jealous.
"At the old store you could barely walk around, it was so small," says James speaking on the size of their former redoubt off FM 518. The new spot took full advantage of the digs that the fallen electronics store was wading in to build a state-of-the-art 15-lane indoor gun range, a fully-stocked gun shop, a corner full of antique firearms, and an on-site gunsmith.
Where you would have bought a iPod a few years back is now the counter where you can finally pick up that dream Glock you have had your eyes on. The showroom now echoes with round after round from an array of pistols, machine guns, and high-powered rifles. But this spot wasn't the first one on the list for the James gang to move the operation. The owners of a former Academy complex down the freeway balked at the store's inventory and big bangs.
"The lease holders didn't want any guns being shot in their strip center, so we walked away from them," says James. The only thing holding that line of stores intact now is a Chinese buffet and a Subway sandwich shop. The owners of the Circuit City spot were more than happy to welcome the Arms Room.
Upon taking over the building, the Jameses installed an array of high-tech amenities. The complex has a system of air vents that collect all the spent lead and dust in the air from all the rounds being shot. The system sweeps up almost 16 kinds of pollutants in the air. Instead of a berm of dirt slowing down the bullets, like that found in most indoor ranges, the Arms Room has a decelerator that stops the rounds and collects them in buckets for recycling.
In fact almost everything related to the expulsion of all this firepower gets reused. The spent shells that are expelled from the weapons on the range and swept into a grate and the metal is reused. Red shotgun shells get weeded out and cleaned after they are used. There is an industrial-size bucket of full metal jackets and lead by the decelerator that was filled to the top after just a day or so of use.
You can take classes to get your Texas Concealed Handgun License, with classrooms located in the middle of the building. Instructor Brian Mobley runs these classes every weekend and has seen a marked rise in students in the past few years.
"You get women who get a scare or hear a story and decide they just have to have a gun. They have never shot a gun but they want one. This class isn't so much about gun use, but about conflict resolution, Texas gun laws, and what happens when you have to engage an enemy. We don't teach gun fundamentals. Some people come here and have never even touched a weapon," Mobley says.
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In the CHL classes they do not teach anything about shooting a warning shot at an attacker, and as James put it "If you have time to shoot a warning shot, you have plenty of time to do something else." Simply put, the CHL classes tell you how to protect yourself, the rest is up to you. But they do let you know that if you are going to fire your weapon, you are responsible for every bullet you shoot.
Hair Balls is an unrepentant gun enthusiast and the idea of a gun range of this size is very much the equivalent of a child walking into a toy store. We wanted to shoot all the guns we could and we were grinning like idiots while doing it. It's a guy thing we suppose.
Travis James, one of the range masters, was more than happy to let us take on an M-16 for a clip or two, and we also put our arms around the futuristic-looking P90. By far the M-16 was the most fun, especially on the semi-automatic setting, and the vibration in our hands afterwards was well worth it.
One of the best parts about a day at the range is watching the humanity coming in and out of it. Husbands and wives of all ages practicing their aim, middle-aged guys delicately cleaning their monstrous deer rifles, grandfathers teaching grandkids fundamentals. It's not all hoary Scorsese character sketches soaking up scenery in the corner. It's more like a hobby shop or a city park atmosphere, albeit with man-killing hand cannons laying around.