There are 10,675 guns, bullets and other implements of destruction in the newly renovated Cody Firearms Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.
Most are behind glass, intriguing to gaze at, impressive in the breadth of the selection.
But a show stopper – perhaps THE show stopper – in the collection is an M2 machine gun tucked into a corner that is hands on.
Not only is this piece of hardware far better known than many other pistols, rifles and shotguns, hands on means you can shoot it.
Granted, you get less bang from firing the trigger than you would if you were in a combat situation in World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Yom Kipper War, in Iran or Iraq, Grenada or any of many other conflicts where the Browning .50-caliber was deployed since first used in 1933 after its initial design in 1918.
The sound has been turned down, the projectiles (calling the ammo bullets doesn’t do them justice) don’t fire and the gun does not kick like a bucking bronco.
Yet the M2 is a fearsome looking weapon, by definition called a “heavy machine gun” and it has an allure.
“I always wanted to shoot one of these,” said James Pilcher of Cody. He rattled off shots that in real life might have pierced armor or KO’d a low-flying plane. “It makes you feel like a man when you shoot it.”
That may be so, but youngsters and women wanted to shoot the big gun too.
Jonah Splichal, 12, who has a background in target shooting, was visiting with his family from Mitchell, Neb., and he took a turn. So did Katrina Katchan of Cody, who had the style down pat. She bent at the knees, hunched forward and definitely looked like someone who knew what she was doing.
“This should blow people to smidgens,” she said.
That is what happens in war and when big-time weapons are employed. This machine gun even has a nickname:“Ma Deuce.”
If the 1873 Winchester repeating rifle is the gun “That won the West,” the M2 could be described as the gun that won the rest of the world.
The M2 has a range of up to 8,100 yards and while earlier models shot up to 600 rounds per minute, others can fire faster.
For most visitors checking out the Firearms Museum and the M2, it was an academic exercise. Not for Eric Peterson, a visitor who is a Marine stationed in Hawaii and someone who has shot the real thing.
Comparing the display model with the M2s he has encountered, Peterson said the active-duty machine guns are louder “and our sights are different. The range is amazing.”
Other passersby were Sandy and Kyle Singer of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan who essentially as a team noted, “We don’t have stuff like this in Canada.”
For that matter, unless you are a member of the military, you don’t have access to stuff like the M2 in many places. Nor maybe should everyone, since one young man’s comment after firing away was “I killed everything out there.”